[Sensitive content: This article discusses gun violence.]
When Wanda Sykes told her audience that “Some shit’s gonna go down, and I don’t think you’re going to like it,” she wasn’t teeing up a heartless comedy set. Instead, Sykes was resurfacing the language of a South Carolina school shooter—whose words were deemed hollow until he opened fire in an elementary school playground.
Sandy Hook Promise is taking a new approach to gun violence prevention by spotlighting the deadly association between violence and humor. Tapping comedians to present dismissed threats from real perpetrators, the organization and agency BBDO NY is emphasizing the dangers of downplaying language when the threat of another school shooting has never been more legitimate.
The campaign puts the dangers of downplaying and normalizing on full display. While helping audiences spot warning signs is the first step, Sandy Hook Promise recognizes that convincing them to take these threats seriously is the biggest barrier to break.
In 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it, the organization reports. According to chief operating officer Dawn Lyons, many of these threats exist on social media, and this written format makes their meanings even more ambiguous.
“Our previous campaigns have really focused on addressing what the warning signs of violence are,” said Lyons, “but after doing that for many years and working with our crisis center, we recognize that sometimes people do recognize the signs and still don’t say anything. It’s about looking at those rationalizations that people make and turning them on their head.”
In addition to sharing the campaign on social channels and working with both comedians and influencers, Sandy Hook Promise continues to rely on donations from media brands. The organization has raised over nine million for this PSA’s media budget and is still seeking donations, Lyons said.
“We’ve already had at least 15 averted school shootings, which means that there are kids sitting at their dinner tables with their families because of the work that we’re doing and because students knew that warning signs to look for,” said Lyons, referring to the organization’s student education program.