You'll Never Think of "Back to School" the Same Way After Seeing This PSA

Sandy Hook Promise released a short video that puts a typically exciting time of year in stark relief against the terror too many American children experience.

Sandy Hook PSA
Photo: Sandy Hook Promise

As September ticks by, and sharpened pencils begin to dull, new-backpack smells are replaced with old-lunch ones, and tags are popped off of all the fresh fall merchandise, the familiar comforts of this time of year bring with them a sobering reality. The year 2018 had the most school shootings of any on record. American students start the school year by locating new emergency exits, learning lockdown drills, and preparing to one day have to hide from — or fight — someone with a gun.

“I don’t think parents are necessarily as in touch with what that experience is like for their kids, and how we’re traumatizing a younger generation on a regular basis now,” says Nicole Hockley, founder of Sandy Hook Promise, who lost her son Dylan in the 2012 tragedy that gives her organization its name. Each year, Sandy Hook Promise releases a new PSA to raise awareness to the growing problem of gun violence, usually timed to the anniversary of that December day in Connecticut. But this year, Hockley says, they decided to take a new strategy and focus on “this new normal.” Watching the PSA below, you’ll see what she means.

VIDEO: Sandy Hook Promise's 2019 "Back to School" PSA

Hockley says we do a grave disservice to our children when “we teach them how to expect violence and how to act when it happens, rather than teaching them prevention and how to stop it from ever getting to that place in the first instance.” Nothing drives that home as clearly as seeing school kids in the ad cheerfully showing off their new school gear, and then using it to save their lives in a shooter scenario that plays out offscreen. “These new sneakers are just what I need for the new year,” one teen says, running down a hallway, as shots ring out behind him. Later, a girl ties a tourniquet around her friend’s bleeding leg, with socks she says “are real lifesavers.”

“We wanted to have parents experience this; really, really hit them in the heart and then compel them to take action. We’re saying that really the only back-to-school essential is to learn the signs and take action in order to prevent school shootings and other forms of violence,” Hockley says.

In 2018 there were 24 school shootings killing 114 people, according to data compiled by EdWeek. There have been 18 school shootings resulting in injuries or deaths so far in 2019. Looking beyond schools, Everytown for Gun Safety reports that every day 100 Americans are killed with guns, with roughly 36,000 losing their lives in this country annually. Starting a conversation with the kids in your life is one of the simplest and most important actions to take, Hockley says, and Sandy Hook Promise has a toolkit for that. She reiterates that so much gun violence is preventable, when people are educated about the signs before it's too late.

With its free programs in schools, Sandy Hook Promise has trained 7.5 million kids and adults to know the signs of a potential gun violence situation. Its anonymous tip reporting system, Say Something, is accessible in nearly 4,000 schools nationwide, and the organization says it has averted several school shooting plots, multiple teen suicides, and countless other types of violence, by receiving — and immediately acting on — these anonymous tips. Once, Hockley says, a shooter sent in a tip himself: “I’ve got my Glock-9 loaded; you’ll never find me.” They did.

“Our kids deserve better,” Hockley says. “Because this shouldn’t be normal in any way shape or form. If people don’t stay engaged and make change happen, then we’re just saying that’s the price we’re paying, this is the way it is in America, and I, for one, refuse to accept that. And I want everyone else to refuse to accept that as well.”

The point of the ad, produced by BBDO and filmed at a school in Los Angeles, is that children shouldn’t have to be our first-responders. Adults should be way more active in this conversation; letting the kids have their cool, new skateboards or first cell phones (that part of the ad should stay with anyone who sees it). On the Sandy Hook Promise website, there are research-backed warning signs of self harm or being a danger to others, which often appear before anyone wields a gun. Learning these signs, and talking about them, can mean all the difference. It can mean, like those back-to-school socks, life or death.

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