Americans at large are feeling increasingly unsafe in public places, and a new PSA video from a nonprofit formed by some of the families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook is a brutal reminder that kids have plenty to fear at back-to-school time as well.
In its video, titled “Back-To-School Essentials,” children go from listing off their favorite new school supplies to acting out a school shooting in which they have to defend themselves with the scissors, sweaters, and other items their parents purchased for their return to school.
The nonprofit, Sandy Hook Promise, aims to honor gun violence victims with “programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.” The organization has previously released other videos highlighting the preventable threat of gun violence in schools.
“We don’t want people to turn away from it, so pretending it doesn’t exist is not helping to solve it,” Sandy Hook parent Nicole Hockley, a co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, told the Today show. “At the end, the girl with the phone gets me every time.”
The video ends with a young girl whispering and crying as she says she “finally got [her] own phone to stay in touch with my mom” as she texts “I love you mom.” You realize she’s hiding during a school shooting before someone, presumably the gunman, is heard swinging open the door and walking in.
The video is a devastating a look at what children may face when they enter the classroom and jarring enough to get viewers to react emotionally, if not politically. But its call to action at the end gets a bit thorny: “School shootings are preventable when you know the signs. Learn more at sandyhookpromise.org.”
Preventable when you know what signs? When you see students acting out on social media? When lawmakers won’t do more than make a verbal commitment to address gun violence? The Sandy Hook Promise website appears to promote a fairly apolitical approach to gun violence—addressing gun violence without addressing guns. From their website, emphasis mine:
SHP’s mission is to create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in schools. SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible program and policy solutions that address the “human side” of gun violence by preventing individuals from ever getting to the point of picking up a firearm to hurt themselves or others. Our words, actions, and impact nationwide are intended to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation.
I took another look at its “Know the Signs” program, the training which seems to focus on creating a community in which no one wants to commit mass murder in the first place, including showing students certain signs to look out for in their classmates.
It’s a different type of activism than trying to take down the NRA. And while the nonprofit claims to have helped thwart school shootings, perhaps this might just be the first step, given that when some shooters have been flagged or reported, they’ve slipped through the cracks anyway. Helping students create an empathic community welcoming of their peers would be a positive change in schools, but without new laws to curb access to guns, we won’t be able to put an end to school shootings.