Display drives home point of gun hazards
URBANA – Keyonna Perry-Edwards knows the rules about guns.
"If you find a gun, you shouldn't touch it," said the 10-year-old.
She heard the rules last year at King Elementary School's annual series of Risk Watch assemblies, where students learn safety lessons about fire, firearms and other hazards. But she doesn't mind hearing them again, because she knows her friends need those lessons, too.
"They shouldn't pick (a gun) up, because they might shoot themselves," Perry-Edwards said.
On Wednesday morning, she and her schoolmates heard from Urbana police Officer Al Johnston and watched as he displayed an enclosed case of guns, all looking like the real thing: metallic, with inscriptions and latches and the like.
"How many of you think you can tell me which ones are the real guns?" he asked students in the first of two assemblies. Hands shot up even before he finished the sentence.
Five children each pointed at a different gun in the case. All five were wrong.
"That's a cigarette lighter," he said, pointing to a small gun one child had chosen. The children gasp. "There's no way to tell, that's how scary it is."
Before the assembly, Johnston told The News-Gazette the answer. "There's not a real one in there," he said of the encased guns. "You can't tell the difference between the fake gun and the real guns."
He pointed to the case of fake weaponry. "Those guns were taken away from somebody," he said. "The little one was taken from a seventh-grader."
Debby Malone, an English as a Second Language second-grade teacher, was as surprised as the children. "You can't tell, and if an adult can't tell, how can a kid tell?" she said.
Malone said the Risk Watch series – which was developed for children by the National Fire Protection Association – has been immensely helpful to students, giving them tips they can take home. "They do tend to talk about it more," she said. "The kids need to learn how to be safe around guns.
"I think it's sad, in many ways ... that it's necessary."
She was surprised to learn that even as an adult, she shouldn't pick up a gun if she or a child finds one, but should call the police and leave the task to them, as Johnston recommended.
"If you find one of these guns on the playground, what should you do?" the police officer asked.
Elie Nyembo, 8, paid attention, and got the rules about guns down.
"Don't touch them," he said. "Get away from them. And go tell someone."