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Active Shooter Awareness or Shock & Awe?

Jason Perry
Jason Perry

Jason Perry is the founder and CEO of Trident Shield. After years of military and law enforcement experience, Jason started the company in 2013 ...

Jason Perry is the founder and CEO of Trident Shield. After years of military and law enforcement experience, Jason started the company in 2013 ...

Awareness or Shock Awe

This past week brought two highly controversial publications connected to the Active Shooter issue that quickly dominated social media and news cycle conversations. The first was the release of a new fashion line by designer Bstroy featuring sweatshirts adorned with the names of schools that have suffered a shooting attack, complete with bullet holes. The second, a PSA video (see the entire video here) by advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise, depicts the unfolding of a school shooting with the students using their ‘back to school’ supplies in an attempt to survive. Both of these groups claim the desire to bring awareness to this national issue through their controversial and shocking productions. And it can certainly be argued that this goal has been accomplished through the resulting strong reactions and debate ever since their release. The question seems to be whether raising awareness, especially when done via such graphic, and arguably distasteful, mediums is really what we are needing as a country right now. It seems that you would be hard pressed to find people who are completely unaware of the tragedy of school shootings; what we are more lacking is an agreement on solutions. That should be the measurement of the purpose and success of controversial statements such as these. Awareness without attempting to offer an answer is often just a resort to shock and awe. The bullet-riddled sweatshirts certainly seem to fall in this category. While the co-founder of the design stated that he wanted to “make a comment on gun violence…while also empowering the survivors of tragedy,” he completely missed the mark by doing quite the opposite of providing empowerment. Rather, the sweatshirts come across as crass and tone-deaf to the continued suffering that active shooting victims experience daily. Furthermore, other than sparking heated controversy, the brand has not expressed plans for using the hoodies for any greater cause, such as donating funds to the numerous non-profits that have been created in victims’ honor, leaving their purported awareness campaign to fall resoundingly flat.

The Sandy Hook Promise PSA differs in that it was created with the purpose of not only raising awareness, but also with the goal of driving people to action. Their organization has a strong focus on the preventable aspects of these attacks by educating on the common indicator behaviors of someone heading towards committing violence. This new PSA is part of a series of videos created to push the fact that so many of these attacks could have been stopped if peers, parents, teachers, and/or Law Enforcement had properly recognized and acted upon the early signs demonstrated by the eventual assailant. While this goal is certainly valid and an incredibly important component to addressing school shootings, this new video fails to incorporate the concept of prevention into the storyline other than the brief statement, “School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.” flashed on the closing screen. Instead, the video falls into the shock and awe trap by showing students actively trying to save their lives while an assailant opens fire around the school. The video’s stark contrast between the excitement of new school supplies and the potential of using those same supplies to survive a shooting seems to have a stronger message of ‘this is inevitable’ rather than ‘this is preventable’. Even the video’s closing statement, with ominous music playing in the background, reads, “It’s back to school time and you know what that means.” The group calls for viewers to learn more by accessing their website but seems to rely too heavily on the motivation of people to learn more. Those who do not pursue any additional information are left with a video that plays much more strongly to a graphic gun violence message, rather than the supposed goal of empowering people to prevent these attacks. Sandy Hook Promise’s previous video called “Evan” offers a much more thought-provoking and successful example to reinforce the group’s mission of prevention through learning the warning signs. In a time when all too many students are scared to return to school as it is, this new video does more to stoke those fears rather than empower them with the knowledge that they have the power to often stop an attack from happening. Fear is crippling; nothing is gained by feeding into it.

By offering this counter point of view, we in no way want to minimize the efforts and motivation behind the Sandy Hook Promise group. The founders have experienced these tragedies in an intimate way that most of us will be blessed to never personally know. However, by working in this field for awhile now, we have developed an appreciation for how, and how not, to reach and empower people regarding this very difficult topic. In the same way that so many inappropriately use fear to train people on active shooter response (see founder Jason Perry’s article in The Hill here), fear is also used to push the political and emotional agendas that surround efforts to stop these shootings altogether. In our experience working with many in the corporate and school environments, shock and awe does nothing but shut down constructive learning and conversation. When we learn to educate, motivate, and inspire through the use of vulnerability and relatability, that’s when we can really begin to make a difference.

There is a popular saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Changing our approach to these awareness campaigns is the perfect place to start.

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