updated 7/15/2013 6:46:33 PM ET 2013-07-15T22:46:33

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed a bill clearing the way for schools to teach a NRA-sponsored gun safety course to first graders.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill into law on Friday that encourages schools to teach a gun accident prevention course to first graders sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

The new law does not require schools to teach the “Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program,” but allows schools to decide whether or not they would like to implement the program. If the school opts to teach the gun-safety course, they can apply for financial grants. The measure also requires school personnel to participate in an “active shooter and intruder” response training program conducted by law enforcement officials.

“Allowing the local school districts to make those choices is appropriate,” Nixon told The Associated Press about schools having the option to teach the course.

The course features Eddie the Eagle teaching 6 and 7-year-olds to “Stop, don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult” when they encounter firearms. First implemented in 1988, the program has been taught to more than 26 million children in all 50 states. More than 20 state legislatures have passed measures promoting the use of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, according to the gun lobby. But Missouri joins North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, to back the program with state legislation. Ohio was the first state to fund the Eddie Eagle program.

Language in the bill specifically prohibits school personnel and instructors from making any value judgments about guns while teaching the program to children.

“The purpose of the Eddie Eagle Program isn’t to teach whether guns are good or bad, but rather to promote the protection and safety of children. The program makes no value judgments about firearms, and no firearms are ever used in the program,” the NRA website states about the program.

“It’s teaching a great safety message to children that could possibly save their life,” Eric Lipp, the NRA’s national manager of community outreach, told the Associated Press.

The legislation was filed on Dec. 13, a day before shooter Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The bill was amended during Senate debate to make the gun-safety program optional.

Sen. Dan Brown, the bill’s sponsor, emphasized that the bill did not aim to arm young school children. “If you see a gun, get away, and report to an adult.”

While the purpose of the course primarily teaches gun safety and how to respond when encountering a gun, the nation’s top gun lobby has continued to market its products specifically to children. In May, a five-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his two-year-old sister using a Crickett rifle that was made and marketed specifically for children.

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