WARNING: Some video, images and text in this story contain graphic content. Discretion is advised.
A brutally realistic video about gun violence is generating intense reactions online, with its depiction of smiling, happy students who use their back-to-school purchases to survive a mass shooting in the United States.
The 67-second video was posted online Wednesday morning by the Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit dedicated to curbing gun violence in schools. The organization was founded by several people whose loved ones were killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Con., in 2012.
The harrowing video shows several chipper young students bragging about their back-to-school buys while treating an active shooter situation like an everyday occurrence.
“Survive the school year with these must-have #BackToSchool essentials,” the Sandy Hook Promise wrote in its tweet. The message also includes a graphic content warning.
The devastatingly realistic PSA unfolds like an ad for back-to-school shopping. One kid brags about his new backpack. Another shows off her new binders. A third touts his brand new headphones — “Just what I need for studying” — as people start screaming in the cafeteria behind him.
“These new sneakers are just what I need for the new year,” a boy says as he sprints down the school hallway toward the camera. Gunshots ring out while he’s talking, and one of his schoolmates drops to the ground behind him.
“This jacket is a real must-have,” a girl says, as she uses it to tie up the doors to the school gym.
“My parents got me the skateboard I wanted,” a boy says, just before using it to smash open a classroom window to create an escape route. “It’s pretty cool.”
The video then cuts to two students who praise their new scissors and pencils, while they lie in wait to stab them into the mass shooter.
The video turns bloody after the halfway mark, when one girl uses her sock to bandage a bloody bullet wound in her classmate’s leg. “These new socks? They can be a real life-saver.”
The final scene shows a girl huddled in a darkened school bathroom while texting “I love you” to her mom. The girl is sobbing, but she still forces a smile onto her face.
“I finally got my own phone to stay in touch with my mom,” she says. Then she holds her breath and closes her eyes as a door creaks open. There is a sound of approaching footsteps, and the video cuts to blackness.
“It’s back-to-school time, and you know what that means,” a message reads at the end of the video. “School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.”
The PSA racked up more than 3 million views in its first eight hours online, and left many users feeling emotional on Twitter.
“Powerful and absolutely devastating,” user @NoNameGirl8686 wrote.
“If you feel this subject matter may be difficult for you, you may choose to contact your representatives and demand change,” wrote Benn Draher.
“Chills through my body and tears through my eyes,” wrote user @MarcelMcClinton.
“When are we going to value lives over guns?” asked @dianasa1098. “I’m so tired of it.”
Some users dismissed the video as too extreme, and downplayed the danger that school shootings pose to kids.
“You’re making it seem like every kid who goes to school is going to get killed,” wrote user @MrDillPicklez. “This is not the case.”
Others twisted the message into a justification for arming more people with guns.
“This is the reason I want to guard my school. This!” wrote Matt Avery Urban Johnson. “Just give me a twelve gauge with a choke and buckshot! That’s all I’d need. That and one shell.”
The Sandy Hook Promise has run several gun-safety PSAs in the past, and won recognition from the FBI for its efforts.
There were 140 people killed in 25 mass shootings in the United States last year, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, Northeastern University and USA Today. Another 131 people were killed in 23 mass shootings over the first seven months of this year.
The AP reports that a typical year has roughly 29 mass killings, which are defined as incidents involving four or more fatalities.
A total of 32 people were killed by mass shooters in one weekend last month, in back-to-back incidents in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
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Several candidates in the Democratic presidential race hailed the video and its message on Twitter.
“When kids go back to school. They have plenty to worry about. They shouldn’t also have to wonder if they’re going to make in home,” tweeted Beto O’Rourke. “It’s graphic, but this is an important video.”
“Our children shouldn’t have to live like this,” Elizabeth Warren tweeted.
“We don’t have to accept this as normal,” added Kamala Harris.
The Sandy Hook Promise’s video encourages people to visit its website and take its promise.
“I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools and communities,” the promise says.
More than 4.4 million people have taken the pledge.
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