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What Can Be Done to Increase Reporting of Warning Signs of Potential Gun Violence?

This post is part four of a five-part series by Nancy Lee exploring how social marketing strategies can reduce gun violence in America. Nancy Lee is a strategic advisor to C+C and one of the world’s leading authorities on social marketing. 

**Content Warning: This post addresses the topics of suicide and gun violence. If you or someone you know is struggling, please consider reaching out to a mental health professional, a support hotline, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or by dialing 988, the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.**

Gun deaths and injuries are now considered a public health crisis in America. A personal research journey has led to four areas of focus for anyone focused on Social Marketing efforts (The 4Ss):

  • Suicide Interventions
  • Storage
  • See Something. Say Something.
  • Social Equity

SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING

Here, we introduce the concept of See Something. Say Something, an important and valuable action when we take into account that:

  • Almost half of mass shooters “leaked their plan in advance.”
  • For 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person knew of the person’s intent.

The school shooting at Uvalde, Texas highlights these statistics in a real-life example. On May 24, 2022, a mass shooter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and 2 teachers. It was later reported by several news outlets that the shooter had sent an earlier text message to a friend that read, “Ima go shoot up a elementary school rn.” In addition, he had posted a photo of two AR15-style rifles on Instagram three days before going to the school.

The following example highlights an impactful Social Marketing effort to increase reporting of potential school shootings.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR ANONYMOUS REPORTING OF WARNING SIGNS 

In 2013, following the shooting in 2012 that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation was formed. Their stated mission was to “educate and empower youth and adults to prevent violence in schools, homes and communities.”

One of the programs developed was the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System for grades 4 through 12. This program teaches students how to recognize warning signs and threats of someone who may be at-risk of hurting themselves or others.

What this program provides is a way to report something suspicious anonymously using a downloadable app. The app enables students to report an issue 24/7/365. Tips are reported to a live crisis center, and managed until the cases are resolved.

As of July 2023 (10 years after launch), outcomes and impact reported on the Sandy Hook Promise website include:

  • 185,000+ anonymous tips have been received
  • 493 lives have been confirmed as saved
  • 15 planned school shootings have been prevented.
  • 9+ million people have made the Sandy Hook Promise to protect children from gun violence
  • 21,000 individuals participated in the Know the Signs Program training

The app is now used nationwide. The Brentwood Unified School District in California encouraged students to download the app, and had immediate, positive results. “32 days in, we received 42 tips so far . . . eight tips where the police department went out to the home to interview the student and six were life saving tips, so we could directly intervene in the student’s life,” said Chris Calabrese, Director of Student Services.

The Say Something citizen action is clearly one that can help reduce gun deaths and injuries. And it has. What is needed is for more of us to know something suspicious when we see it, be aware of options for safe and anonymous reporting, and then to say something.

 

References and more detail such as years and source for these statistics can be found in Nancy Lee’s book, Reducing Gun Deaths & Injuries: A Social Marketing Approach, Ethics International Press, 2023. If you’re interested in purchasing a paperback copy, select “Paperback” and for a 15% discount, enter this code: 42663576207413.