A new video by a gun control advocate that shows a boy stealing his mom’s gun and taking it to school for the purpose of turning it in to rid his home of the potential threat may do more harm than good if kids who view it take it literally.
Having watched Rejina Sancic's video “Stop Gun Violence,” which the independent filmmaker has called a PSA – although there is no indication it is in any way sponsored by a government agency or client – it’s hard to get past the concern that kids, who often take things literally, might put themselves and classmates at risk of physical injury and perhaps legal consequences if they follow the example provided in this video.
The video opens with a boy sneaking into his mom’s room, stealing a handgun from a dresser drawer where it is outside of a lock box among her clothes, then putting it in his backpack and taking it to school.
The gun sits in his backpack in the classroom. After class, he waits for the other students to leave and then unceremoniously and with no preamble puts the gun on the teacher’s desk. For a moment the teacher looks suitably terrified.
The twist comes when the boy says, “Can you take this away? I don’t feel safe with a gun in my house.”
As recent news includes reports about kids being shot for brandishing a toy gun, this video message is completely lost in the horrible images that come to mind of possible misunderstandings that could happen as the result of a child in the real world taking these actions.
While this may be just a filmmaker’s attempt to use shock tactics to gain attention to her cause, the reality is that children who carry a real handgun into a school, park, or onto public transportation may be subject to serious consequences no matter how lofty their reason.
According to DeEtta Culberson, spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency state law 37.007 states that any student who is in possession of, displays, or makes use of a firearm for any reason will be subject to immediate expulsion.
“If you bring a gun into a school in Texas you will be expelled,” Ms. Culberson said in a phone conversation. “It will not matter that the student says they brought it there to turn it in.”
It seems this is largely the policy nationwide in public schools due to The Gun-Free School Zones Act, which prohibits possession of a gun within a school, on school property, or within a set distance of school property.
Since many parents are keenly aware of the mayhem that can result from a student bringing a firearm into a school zone, or in some cases even biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, the video’s intended message may get lost in the hubbub over the delivery.
Also, there is no indication in the video that the boy has tried talking to his mother about his fears about the gun. Much is left to the imagination in this video, which may be the biggest problem.
Christina Schweiss of Virginia Beach, Va., a retired Army Lt. Colonel and mother of two teens, watched the video on Facebook and responded in a chat, “Stupidest thing I've ever seen.”
Ms. Schweiss added, “If a boy this age truly did not feel safe with a gun in the house, he should tell his parents exactly that. The video should depict teens having a conversation about gun safety with their parents.”
Then Schweiss asked some good questions about fear such as: Why does the boy not feel safe? Is he depressed and afraid he'll hurt himself? Is he afraid someone will break in and the gun will be turned around on the family? Is he afraid a friend will come over and want to see it, handle it, and accidentally shoot someone? Is he afraid he has a tendency to become a school shooter and doesn't want the temptation?
All of these offer some good discussion points the video misses the opportunity to explore and in so doing, perhaps win parents to the cause.
I called The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., in part because the group’s Communications Director Ladd Everitt had been on Twitter giving its maker some notes on how it might be improved.
“Like other provocative satire, such a message might very well disturb and/or scare some viewers. That is totally understandable. We would argue, however, that the reality of the United States leading the civilized world in child gun death—by a long shot—is far more terrifying,” Mr. Everitt wrote in email.
Mr. Ladd said in a phone conversation and restated in email that his group had no involvement in the making of this PSA.
“I felt there was the making of a great PSA in her original three-minute spot, but that it was too long and poorly constructed. I urged her to go back to the drawing board, tighten the piece, and make her message more clear,” Ladd stated in email.
The message Ladd would like to get across in any PSA regarding gun control is that the United States needs to hold parents legally accountable when they negligently store firearms and those firearms end up in the hands of children or other unauthorized parties.
Ladd believes Sincic “was pointing out this absurdity in our nation’s gun policy (i.e., the near total lack of safe storage requirements for firearms in the home or Child Access Prevention laws). The PSA seemed to be asking viewers, ‘Have we now so totally lost sense of reason that it is up to CHILDREN to take desperate measures to make their homes safe?’”
All-in-all some pretty big pieces of the puzzle seem to be missing from the video’s message in order to be effective.
If this video was a first step for this filmmaker, perhaps a more effective approach might have been to advocate for kids with concerns about firearms in the home to sit down with the parents or a trusted adult (perhaps a teacher) to talk about guns, and why they may not feel safe with one in the house.