Names of those who died due to gun violence this last year, in Michigan / Deb Nystrom

December 14, 2016; Los Angeles Times

Last week marked the horrific four-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people, including six staff members and 20 children, lost their lives in the most ghastly way. Since the shooting, loved ones of the victims, school staff, and the Newtown community have searched for ways to cope with their unimaginable grief. Four years later, family members of those killed, while still bearing the great burden of their loss, continue to turn their pain into action through the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise.

The organization, formed in the days following the shooting, aims to “prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child,” according to its mission statement. Through advocacy, community outreach, and educational program development the group hopes to change the way our nation views gun legislation and engages in gun violence prevention.

In the organization’s most recent effort, it delivers via a now-viral PSA a shockingly powerful message on recognizing the signs of gun violence. The 2:28-long video, simply titled “Evan,” takes the viewer through a supposed love connection between two young students, all while another student, left in their shadows, displays an unsettling obsession with guns. Although woven throughout the video more subtly, other themes are apparent as well, like bullying, challenges in the classroom, and generally antisocial behavior. In addition to leaving the watcher feeling completely jolted and somewhat ashamed for not noticing the student in the background, the video concludes urging us all to “know the signs.”

While the organization’s core purpose is to advocate for stronger gun control laws, its founders believe that in order to influence policy, you must first effect a change of heart and mind.

It’s about influencing attitudes and behaviors,” Mark Barden, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise whose son Daniel was one of 20 first-graders killed, told the Los Angeles Times. “If you do that, the policies will follow.”

Sandy Hook Promise aligns its strategy with those of other organizations that have successfully shifted attitudes toward certain societal issues, like drinking and driving and marriage equality, and in turn have helped gain big policy wins. Despite the impact gun-related violence has had on our nation (over 13,000 deaths caused by gun violence this year alone) the debate over whether to institute stricter gun laws remains a contested topic and one that will likely continue to face numerous hurdles during the upcoming Republican-led administration.

The creative grassroots messaging created by Sandy Hook Promise is nothing short of compelling. But is it gripping enough to make important strides in influencing policy and shake up the way citizens think about gun violence and the prevention of it? Here’s hoping.—Lindsay Walker