It's mid-September. The air is crisp, yellow buses are out, back-to-school commercials are on the air. But this Sandy Hook Promise ad, produced by the Newtown, Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that focuses on preventing gun violence in schools, shows how harrowing back-to-school season can be in 2019.
Sandy Hook Promise was founded after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 26 people, including 20 children. The organization was founded by family members of the deceased with the goal of training students, educators, and other community members to recognize the potential signs of danger so that they may be able to prevent a tragedy before it occurs. The group also advocates for specific policies designed to boost safety.
But in the harrowing ad released Wednesday, Sandy Hook Promise goes a different route, forcing viewers to confront what going back to school amid a spate of mass shootings really means. It begins with cheerful students showing off their new classroom gear, before taking a dark turn:
The last scene, which features a girl crouching atop the toilet in a bathroom stall and texting her mother "I love you mom," is especially devastating. In the many mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. recently, cell phones have played an especially haunting role as those in danger use them to send last words to their loved ones; later, the devices can serve as a painful reminder of the tragedy. The Sandy Hook Promise PSA ends as footsteps can be heard approaching the hiding, crying student.
The upsetting segment "is designed to evoke emotion that sparks serious conversations about prioritizing violence prevention in schools, rather than continually focusing on reactionary measures or practicing for violence that we 'expect' will happen," Mark Barden, a co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise whose son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, told CBS News.
Barden's point about reframing the issue around prevention rather than reaction is salient. If there are some who feel the Sandy Hook Promise ad is unnecessarily dramatic, they may do well to remember that students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — where 17 students were killed in a shooting last February — have been forced to endure terrifying active shooter drills monthly in which most students don't know whether or not the threat is real until the exercise is over.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the upper chamber is "in a holding pattern" on gun control while awaiting word from the White House. The president's most recent action on the issue, meanwhile, was to call a Democratic politician a "dummy" on Twitter for advocating for a mandatory buyback program.
Welcome to back-to-school season in 2019.