The back-to-school essentials ad recently released by the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise hits a little differently than most back-to-school ads.
The video, posted on Sept. 11 by the organization, shows different students showing off their new school supplies. At first, it seems like a typical back-to-school commercial, but it takes a disturbing turn when it shows a girl using her new socks to wrap another student’s bleeding gunshot wound. In another scene, a boy uses his new skateboard to bust open a school window to escape a shooter.
This video is twisted and unsettling to watch, and has become nearly impossible to avoid on social media since its release. Critics of the video have expressed concern that the video is too violent and is capitalizing on shock value to further a fear-based political agenda. However, this sickening feeling is likely exactly what Sandy Hook Promise — which was founded by the family members of students killed at the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — wants people to feel. It is not merely a back-to-school commercial, but a harsh reality that many children face today.
Based out of Newtown, Connecticut, the organization’s mission is to “honor all victims of gun violence by turning [their] tragedy into a moment of transformation by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.” So although the video it posted is quite graphic, it is an effective way of promoting its message of transforming something deeply upsetting into something that will make people more aware of the urgency of this issue.
The video highlights the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 where 26 people — including 20 small children — were murdered. But it also broadens the picture, referring to the hundreds of school shootings that have occurred since then. According to a Vox article, there have been 2,229 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook shooting with at least 2,518 killed and 9,315 wounded. This video is extremely upsetting to watch, but it is not nearly as upsetting as these numbers that are continuing to grow.
It is possible that the video could come off as disrespectful to survivors of school shootings, but there is a PSA warning in the bio of the video that says the video displays graphic content related to school shootings. If someone knows this sort of content is triggering to them, they will be able to avoid watching it.
The video was also created by an organization that provides resources to educate people about gun violence and advocate for more gun safety regulations and is not simply capitalizing on the issue for attention or to instill panic. Some are concerned it presents a scary message to parents and children that are going back to school. But the Sandy Hook Promise, which suggests ways for parents, teachers and students to learn the signs that can lead to violence in order to prevent these mass shootings from happening, understands that children cannot be shielded from the reality of school shootings.
Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the shooting in 2012, spoke about the video to NBC’s “Today” show. She stressed that the intent of this video was not terrify people, but to show that these shootings are preventable and it is crucial to educate people on it.
“We don’t want people to turn away from it, so pretending it doesn’t exist is not helping to solve it,” she said.
While the ad is certainly controversial, it raises awareness about the school shooting crisis in America in a respectful way. Recently, at New York Fashion Month in Manhattan, a fashion brand called Bstroy did the opposite. The brand is facing backlash for modeling school-shooting themed sweatshirts featuring names of different schools that have experienced mass shootings, such as Columbine, Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas, with what appear to be bullet-shaped holes.
The clothing line especially received criticism from the victims of school shootings and their relatives. Responding to an Instagram photo of a Stoneman Douglas sweatshirt, a survivor from the Parkland shooting commented, “My dead classmates dying should not be a f****ing fashion statement.” Even though the clothing line was made specifically for fashion week, Bstroy is considering selling them.
Unlike the Sandy Hook ad, this clothing line is an explicit display of disrespect to the victims of mass shootings. Bstroy said it was trying to bring more attention to the issue of gun violence, but turning these horrible tragedies into a fashion statement is an extremely insensitive thing to do. Because Bstroy is also interested in capitalizing off the brand, these sweatshirts are in no way benefiting the victims of school shootings. This contrasts with the Sandy Hook Promise’s video, which directs people to learn more about how to actually prevent school shootings from happening.
The Sandy Hook Promise video was also released at a time where there has been a lot of political talk around gun legislation. There have been discussions around a Justice Department document that outlines potential gun legislation, including expanded background checks to all advertised commercial sales. President Donald Trump, however, shut down the notion that the administration is moving forward on gun legislation and said to Fox News that they are purposely “moving very slowly” on talks because they “want to make sure it’s right.” He also said that although he doesn’t want “crazy people” to have access to guns, he will still protect the Second Amendment.
At a time where the Trump administration is delaying any sort of gun legislation, this video is all the more necessary. Clearly, very little progress has been made since the Sandy Hook shooting and this video reminds people that this is an issue they should still care about.
Children should not have to use their brand new scissors for art class to protect themselves from a gunman or use their new sneakers to quickly run down the hallway to avoid getting shot. This is not the world that children deserve to be living in, and this video exemplifies just that. You should feel uncomfortable and disturbed by this because sadly, it is reality.