In a nation fraught with concerns over security in schools, the last thing many parents and students want on their mind is the possibility of an active shooter emerging from within the student body. While attempts are made to crackdown on the influx of mass shootings that have occurred over the past year, many still concur with the notion that gun violence is impossible to predict. Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist, stated to the L.A. Times that “warning signs that are about people’s character are not useful. There’s no profile, and people who seek to label people as a threat based on their characteristics will mislabel millions and millions of people.”
However, many opinions changed across the country when 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 27 individuals, 20 of them small children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. After almost four years of rebuilding both American morale and the stigma surrounding gun violence, Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization aiding the victims of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, released a Public Service Announcement called “Evan.”
“Evan” tells the tale of a boy’s interest in a girl that he communicates with through writings on a desk. On the last day of school, the girl realizes that the protagonist, Evan, was actually the boy behind the writings and before they can make plans for the summer, another student enters the background with a semi-automatic rifle in hand, instilling a realistic fear within the students’ faces. The PSA then reveals that “gun violence is preventable,” showing various signs, including isolationism and an inherent interest in arms, in the young man who became the school shooter.
Despite the importance of the PSA, it makes one critical mistake. That mistake is that they perpetuate the warning signs of a shooter. Some of the stereotypical signs in the PSA revolved around a notion of loneliness and an interest in guns. However, not all shooters will show these signs. Oftentimes, these individuals are emotionally complex and display signs that run against “the norm” presented in the ad campaign.
They did get one important aspect correct, though: individuals are frequently wrapped up in the trivial aspects of life. We are not always focusing on the various environmental factors surrounding us. The issue that the PSA attempts to solve is that of awareness; being aware of our environment and learning to open our eyes to the background of life rather than honing in on the foreground.
Interestingly enough, Sandy Hook Promise expertly attacked a commonplace issue that our society does not talk enough about: adolescent mental illness. Peter Landman, a clinical psychologist and author of School Shooters .Info, stated, “Adult shooters tend not to engage so much in leakage, but when you’re talking about adolescents, often they talk a lot and they write about it and they post about it, so whatever we can do to educate both students and school staff about the warning signs is really important.” We agree with Landman’s assertion — if our society continues to ignore mental illness, we will be unable to prevent these shootings.