If the Sandy Hook PSA Shocks You, You Haven't Been Paying Attention

Lizzy Francis

Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit organization founded by Mark Barden after the 2012 murder of his seven-year-old son and 25 others, has released an unorthodox video detailing the “back-to-school” essentials needed in 2019.

The profoundly disturbing video, only a minute long, features kids talking about their sweet new school supplies while gunshots ring out.  The video starts innocently enough — a kid pulls his backpack out of his locker — but quickly turns as death stalks the halls of what seems to be your average suburban school. The video ends with a girl talking about her phone, which she uses to text her mother and tell her that she loves her, presumably for the last time.

The ad, which debuted Wednesday on “Today” but also went viral online, intends to shock. It superimposes the banality of binders with an unseen existential threat. In essence, it does in a minute what 180 school shootings that have resulted in 356 victims have done over the past decade, reiterating that our children are not safe. It is time, the ad suggests, the adults to put away childish things and address the problem. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.

Research suggests that state and local politicians have a tendency to loosen gun restrictions in the wake of shootings and that local restrictions do little to stop school shooters, predominantly young, white men determined to kill. A universal background check bill has been on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk since February. That bill is unlikely to go anywhere. But that’s not all. Not only will that bill not go anywhere, nothing else will be done either.

Sandy Hook Promise has largely avoided focusing on gun control. The founders of the organization are political realists who believe that the next school shooting might be prevented by better access to counseling and more support for educators. Though the new ad could easily be read as anti-gun agitprop, it’s actually far bleaker than that. A title that runs after the clip says “School shootings are preventable if you know the signs.” Why? Because until leaders actually do something, the safety of children is entirely in the hands of the adults who love them. Back-to-school season means being wary — and assuming no one else will be.

The ad represents a reflection of a reality that will not change until parents hold politicians to account not only for irresponsible gun legislation but for divesting from the wellbeing of children.

In the ad, a girl and a boy stand by windowed doors with a pair of scissors and colored pencils, ready to fight, and say that the tools are great for art class. More gunshots ring out. A kid takes off her new socks, calling them a lifesaver, to tie off a gunshot wound in another student’s legs. It’s material that should belong in The Onion, but inevitably winds up on the front page of the New York Times.

The ad is visceral, sure, but if you’re shocked you haven’t been paying attention.

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