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Top cops want Virginia to set standard for gun safety classes

Gun safety classes are not regulated, leaving room for critics

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ROANOKE, Va. – You can find gun safety courses at businesses and police departments but when it comes to how the classes are taught, there's no set standard in Virginia.

"I don't think guns are going anywhere. They've been around a long time and they're going to continue to be around," said Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones, who wants to see change when it comes to gun safety classes.

Jones says he once used an Eddie Eagle coloring book for kids and got backlash from people thinking he was pushing the National Rifle Association's agenda, since it's an NRA educational character.

"We're dealing with people's lives and well-being here, so we ought to be able to come to terms on what sound gun safety tactics are, and we should not have to criticize law enforcement agencies because one particular program is not available to be taught to our public," said Jones.

"The course we teach is offered by our firearms instructors who have decades of experience," said Eric Orange, Roanoke County's sheriff, who adds they had to develop their own gun safety course.

Orange says more than 800 people have taken it over the past few years but notes one Virginia course would be helpful.

"For the most part it would simplify things, but we would also know what information is being relayed, what information people are getting," said Orange. "If you had a baseline course then it would allow them something to build upon. It would simplify it. We often use the term in law enforcement, 'Let's don't reinvent the wheel.' If there's something out there, let's take that and let's modify it to suit the needs of our community to the best we can."

"Other states do have them. You think it would be fairly easy to kind of cut and paste, and adopt one from another state, but even something as simple as a gun safety program is scrutinized politically," said Jones. "I think we've got to do a better job. We've got to find a mechanism for teaching gun safety programs that we can all support regardless of our political differences or our social ideologies or whatever may be our point of contention. The focus should be on keeping people safe, making guns safe."

We took their concerns to the Virginia Attorney General's Office, which didn't want to comment and instead pointed us to the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which told us it "does not recommend or approve gun safety courses for civilians."

This is part of an ongoing 10 News series about kids and guns. There will be multiple stories in August about how to keep your family safe. As many police departments have told us during interviews for this series, it is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun, it is about locking up guns so kids and/or criminals don't have access to guns.

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You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m.