Sandy Hook group releases chilling back-to-school ad to warn families about gun violence

By Emily Tillett

/ CBS News

Anti-gun violence advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise has released its latest public service announcement kicking off the new school year with a dark twist. The new digital-focused PSA, titled "Back-To-School Essentials," seemingly mimics a typical back-to-school ad with students showing off their new gear like backpacks and binders for the year.

As the ad progresses, however, the students appear to be caught up in an all-too-familiar crisis that numerous children across the country have experienced — running from an apparent school shooter in their brand-new sneakers, tying a door closed with the sleeves a new jacket, or arming themselves with school supplies purchased for art class.

"Survive the school year with these must-have back to school essentials," Sandy Hook Promise writes in a release promoting the PSA.

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Warning: This video includes some disturbing images.

Back to School Essentials | Sandy Hook Promise by Sandy Hook Promise on YouTube

The chilling video ends with a young girl in tears, barricading herself inside a bathroom stall, while writing a text message telling her mother that she loves her on her brand new cellphone.

"It's back to school time, and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the signs," text reads on the screen as it fades to black. The PSA is just the latest in a series of heart-stopping ads the group has released over the past three years urging families to "Know the Signs" to help prevent mass shooting tragedies such as the in 2012 that left 20 children and six educators dead.

The organization, which was founded by several families impacted by the Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy, said each year the group works to produce "creative and compelling public service announcements (PSA) illustrating that gun violence is preventable when you know the signs." The group said in a statement that their focus for this year's campaign was to show the "new normal" students and families have become accustomed to in U.S. schools. There have been more mass shootings than days so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

"This PSA 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, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, told CBS News.

"In our video, we show the awful, painful reality that children across the country face as school shootings become more frequent. But we also make it clear that it doesn't have to be this way: When we teach students to Know the Signs, and empower them to report warning signs to trusted adults, we can prevent school shootings and save lives."

The ad comes as pressure grows for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to act to produce common-sense gun legislation in the wake of two deadly mass shooting events over the course of 24 hours just last month. While the Democrat-led House passed its version of gun reform legislation in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not put a gun bill on the floor unless he knows the president would sign it.

McConnell told colleagues on the Senate floor Tuesday that he is still waiting to hear from the White House about what gun safety measures the president would support.

Sandy Hook Promise, meanwhile, says it's on Congress to finally act to end the epidemic of gun violence.

"We echo this demand for a full-Senate vote on gun violence prevention policies including Universal Background Checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which can help to save thousands of lives every year," Barden said. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are commonly known as "red flag" laws and have been adopted in a number of states.

"It is the duty of this Congress to protect our kids and end this epidemic of gun violence before more precious lives are taken."

First published on September 18, 2019 / 9:40 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emily Tillett

Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital

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