Gun violence: This harrowing back-to-school advert shows the urgent need for gun reform

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Christobel Hastings
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In an era of unprecedented gun violence in the US, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation has sparked a national conversation about the urgent need for reform with a harrowing new video.

It starts with smiles, laughter, and the familiar sound of the school bell calling children back to the classroom for the new term. Children show off their snazzy new possessions as if it were a retail advert: a colourful backpack here, a flashy mobile phone there. But this is no ordinary back-to-school video.

The mood in the school corridors quickly turns from excitement to fear as the sound of gunshots ring out. Children flee for their lives into the playground, a boy smashes a window, while another girl cowers in a toilet cubicle texting her Mum “I love you” as the ominous sound of footsteps approach. The schoolchildren who were proudly displaying their new possessions only moments earlier, are now faced to repurpose their skateboards, stationary and trainers as a means to survive a mass shooting. This is the reality facing schoolchildren across the United States. This is the reality of gun violence

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“After the weekend’s mass shootings, how much more catastrophic does America’s rock bottom have to be?”

That’s the message behind a harrowing new Public Service Announcement from the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by families of children killed in the Sandy Hook primary school shooting in Connecticut in 2012.

The shocking video from the school safety advocacy group, titled Back-To-School Essentials, is designed to warn parents about the ever-present threat of gun violence in America, and show how schoolchildren could be forced to use their back-to-school essentials to fend off active shooters, exactly as they are in the advert.

“These new sneakers are just what I needed for the new year,” one boy says as he runs down a corridor away from the shooter. 

“My parents got me this skateboard I wanted, it’s pretty cool,” another child remarks, as he uses it to smash a classroom window for an escape route. 

“These new socks can be a real lifesaver,” says another girl, using her socks to bind a tourniquet around a wounded classmate’s bloodied leg.

At the end of the video, the advert fades to black and the following warning appears: “It’s back to school time and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.”

The advert may be chilling, but its scenarios are disturbingly realistic, as the parents of the Sandy Hook massacre, in which a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed 20 children and six staff members, know all too well.

Speaking to CNN, Nicole Hockley, the organisation’s managing director whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the shooting, said the video was “meant to be intense.”

“This is what our kids are experiencing now in school,” she explained. “We wanted to focus on this back-to-school time because parents still think of it as this rosy time where you’re getting your staplers, shoes, folders and binders…Whereas, it’s back to a time of violence for a lot of kids.”

In an area of rising mass shootings and unparalleled gun violence, the need for gun reform is more urgent than ever. No-one should be forced to endure a life-or-death situation when they venture out in public, not least schoolchildren when they go to be protected in the care of the educational system. 

Yet, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 302 mass shootings in the US this year so far, while Donald Trump has only responded to recent fatal shootings with the promise that “serious discussions” about background checks are under way.

People lay tributes to the victims of the Santa Fe high school shooting, which claimed 10 lives in May 2018

There is hope, however, thanks to historic protests like March For Our Lives, which are pushing gun control to the front of the national agenda. And the growing conversation is so too giving victims of gun violence, like Hockley, determination to change the state of play.

“I think each time, sadly, we are moving closer to the time that it’s going to be different (after a shooting). A lot has changed since Sandy Hook,” she continued. “The recent back-to-back shootings are so heartbreaking. The conversation continues to happen. More people are getting involved. Legislation is available in Congress right now that can start to chip away at these acts of violence. Prevention, plus legislation, that’s the cure to this.”

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