It opens with a family waking up in a bucolic suburb, Mom making coffee, Dad holding the baby at the breakfast table while the young son spoons cereal. Then it is time to go. The boy, kindergarten age by the looks of him, pulls on a sweatshirt decorated with a bullseye target on front. Over that, Mom fastens his bullet proof vest, also bearing that same stark target. And off he heads to school.
“Is This The New School Uniform?” the final frame asks. “Send Congress a message. Pass gun control today or lose my vote tomorrow.”
I expect some of the inevitable anger will be from those who support the right to guns, and who think this ad gets it backwards. Yes, this child is a target at school, they will say -- just look at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. But while the ad implies that the reason they have a metaphorical bullseye on their chests is because too many people in the country carry guns, the real reason, they will say, is that too few of us are armed. If only there were armed guards in schools, teachers with weapons, aides who are battle trained. And bullet proof vests, why now? (After all, there are bullet proof backpacks on the market.)
On the flip side there will be those who will agree with the above assessment -- mad men are gunning for our kids -- but not with the “more guns will stop those bad guys” solution. Anyone who isn’t for gun control must de facto be for more violence, this group will say, and the only answer is to ban firearms in every way possible.
And finally, there will be the group that will see the ad as promoting hysteria. As with so many threats, they will say, today’s generation of parents has blown this one out of proportion, and has lost track of the fact that school shootings are extraordinarily rare. Our children are actually in less danger, not more, in today’s world -- not only from school shootings, but from mishaps and violence in general. To put our schools on lockdown, they argue, is not commensurate with the risk, and is doing its own kind of damage by leading us to over protect our kids. They, too, will see this ad as a scare tactic.
And me? I think that the ad gets it exactly right -- precisely because it creates such strong, and opposite, responses. In this debate neither side has fact completely on its side, and both have thoroughly understandable, legitimate, compelling emotion. On the one hand, our kids may not statistically be in the cross-hairs, but it sure feels like they are every time we send them off to school. On the other, adding more guns to the mix is more likely to ensure violence, not reduce it, but it sure feels like it will help. We need to recognize that feeling of parents of being under siege, then begin to defuse it.