This interview with Dyuthi Kumar, an intern for Sandy Hook Promise’s Programming team (and a former Sandy Hook Promise Youth Advisory Board member), took place on July 22. She is 18 and goes to California High School in San Ramon, California. Kumar first became involved with the Sandy Hook Promise organization through the “Say Something” program. The “Say Something” program teaches middle schoolers and high schoolers to recognize the warning signs of someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others, and how to say something to a trusted adult to get help.
I reached out to Sandy Hook Promise because of the Uvalde school shooting that took place on May 24, when 19 students and two teachers were fatally shot at the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, TX. Seventeen others were also wounded due to the school shooting. Sandy Hook Promise is a national nonprofit organization founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were lost and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
This interview was edited for clarity and grammar.
Do gun violence and school shootings impact certain socioeconomic and social groups more than others?
I always answer this question with yes and no because there are lots of different aspects to it. Yes, because Hispanic and Black males, strictly speaking, are more likely to be victims of gun violence. Same thing with Hispanic women and Black women. There is absolutely a racial aspect to it and is very much linked to if you live in an underserved community. If you live in a place where the school is underfunded and in constant poverty those are huge factors. There’s also domestic violence, which is related to my previous statement. If you do happen to be financially struggling you’re likely to be in a house with domestic violence and this is more likely to be women. There is also the aspect that 50 percent of gun deaths are suicides. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth. They are an especially vulnerable group. Then, we also have LGBTQ+ youth who are vulnerable. There are all these little pieces to it. So, the answer is yes. It’s just that there are so many different aspects to it.
How is the Sandy Hook Promise organization working to reduce the frequency at which school shootings are happening?
One of the things Sandy Hook Promise really preaches is that there is no single thing that causes gun violence. So, there’s not a single thing we can do to fix it. I first got involved with this organization through the “Say Something” program. If you look it up, in almost every single school shooting, there was at least one other person who saw signs or who knew about the attacker’s plan. After the shooting happens, people come after and say stuff like “yeah, he did this.” So, Sandy Hook Promise really practices and teaches students and staff how to recognize signs of gun shooting. Almost every single school shooting that has been averted was because someone stood up and said something that something might be going wrong. We also advocate for legislation. We have helped pass Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) as bipartisan bills to increase suicide awareness.
Are there certain rules and regulations that must be implemented about the age at which someone should be able to obtain a gun?
Yes. We are a big organization, but the fact does remain that in Uvalde, Buffalo, Parkland these were all committed by people who legally purchased a gun. There’s a reason why you cannot drink until you’re 21. Kids are still developing so that seems to be a big part of it.
How does mental illness tie into school shootings with shooters likely to be suffering from one or more mental illnesses?
There is some debate on this. What we as an organization really promote is raising awareness about mental illness and taking care of people who are mentally struggling. It is not saying that someone who is mentally ill is likely to be a school shooter. In fact, in a lot of cases, strangely enough, these individuals did not have diagnosable illnesses. So, that’s not what we are saying. What we do is practice raising awareness for mental illness and providing support for suicide prevention. And if you have a community, you feel comfortable reaching out to one another. [People] are more likely to speak up. So, it really comes back to creating a cohesive community.
What are some signs and precautions schools can take to actively reduce school shootings?
Sandy Hook Promise has these amazing programs. It starts with the very basics. The program is called “Say Something,” which may seem trite, but if people were doing it, there wouldn’t be as many school shootings. Having people on the lookout and these students who become school shooters are often socially isolated and are not social butterflies. Recognizing the signs and a lot of these signs are on social media. We need students to communicate with one another and encourage students to step up when they feel like they are struggling or see another student struggling.
How does police reform and security of public structures help to ensure the safety of public schools?
Police intervention has been the most effective when it is done alongside with the community and talking to students to see what is working and what is not. When all stakeholders are involved and working with counselors and parents for a community-wide intervention, community-wide intervention becomes really effective. A big part of it also is when we have a student, the answer should be centered not around suspension but rehabilitation, because if you suspend that student, you now have a student that isn’t getting the help they need and is simply wandering outside. So, getting the whole community involved and all the stakeholders involved is the correct way to help the students get the help that they deserve.