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DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Alex Coker shows the proper installation of the Project Child Safe gun locks, being made available free of charge through the Sheriff’s Department.

Bob Bakken|DTT

Recent tragic events of children being killed by firearms have again brought forward the need to ensure guns are used properly and with respect, at the same time assuring that weapons are locked and housed in a way that youngsters cannot shoot themselves, or others. 

The most recent tragedy involved 9-year-old Cameron Williams of Horn Lake, who investigators said accidentally shot himself Sunday morning near his home after reportedly finding a gun under a car seat and pulling the trigger.

Most recent statistics indicate that Mississippi and Alabama are tied at a rate of 19.6 firearm deaths per 1,000 population and more youngsters are being included in the sobering figure.

The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department and Public Relations Deputy Alex Coker are among those who are becoming more active in promoting gun safety in an effort to curb the trend.

Coker said the mission is not to deny guns, but rather give proper respect to firearms and to use them wisely and safely.

“I’m involved in a hunter safety program to teach people about proper handling of firearms if they are going to handle them once they get of an age of responsibility and maturity to where they learn how to hunt not accidentally shoot themselves,” Coker said. “Adults also accidentally shoot themselves, so it’s not just for kids that I’m teaching them. I’m teaching adults as well.”

But firearm safety should start as soon as possible, so Coker has been involved in efforts, such as visits to local schools to talk about gun safety to youngsters as young as kindergarten age.

“It’s called the Eddie Eagle Gun Safe Program, where I go into schools, grades kindergarten through fourth grade at the request of teachers or principals, or churches, and speak with those kids about what to do when they see a gun,” Coker said. “In this day and age, guns come in all kinds of different colors and almost look like toys. A small child sees that and thinks it’s a toy, not thinking it is a real gun.”

The Eddie Eagle program is promoted by the National Rifle Association with the main message being to teach kids when they find a firearm to, “Stop! Don’t touch, run away and tell a grown-up.”

Coker said the message is enforced through the use of an eight-minute video provided by the NRA, made as a cartoon movie for the kids’ benefit.

The video is available to be viewed online at: http://bit.ly/2wOiv28.

Coker said the message is also made into a jingle-like song that makes it easier for the children to remember.

“We definitely try to imprint that into young kids’ brains,” Coker said. “I’m not saying kids can never touch guns, but when they get older, more mature and responsible, they can learn how to handle firearms responsibly.”

The deputy said there are four general firearms safety rules he teaches to adults: treat all guns as if they are loaded, keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target ready to shoot, don’t point the weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot, yourself or anyone else, and know your target and what is beyond it.

The Sheriff’s Department has also started another program that provides free gun safety locks to those who want to add an extra level of protection.

The locks are being made available through the Project Child Safe program with the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“I highly suggest that if you’re going to have armed firearms, have some way to secure them, especially with children around,” Coker said. “Every year, kids are being killed by guns. There have been at least six childhood accidental shootings in the Memphis-Mid-South area in the last month or so.”

He added that gun owners should consider buying a gun safe, which can range from $50-$100 in retail locations.

People interested in finding out more about the free gun locks or about the gun safety programs and firearms safety classes that Coker provides can reach him at 662-469-8786 or acoker@desotocountyms.gov.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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