This High School Student Advocates For Safer Gun Storage Practices In New PSA
“You told me not to talk to strangers. You told me not to cross the street without looking both ways,” begins the 30-second PSA, “You Told Me.” Cast with grade schoolers, the video juxtaposes the innocence of its subjects with a more pressing subject matter. After children talk about the many things their parents taught them, the video is then abruptly interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. “You gave me so many messages about how to stay safe. Why didn’t you keep me safe by properly storing your gun?”
Created by rising high school senior Amelia Montagnino of Bethesda, Maryland for a scholarship competition held by the Ad Council and Brady through the End Family Fire campaign, the message of “You Told Me” is clear: if you aren’t properly storing your firearm, you are putting your family at risk.
Since 2018, the Ad Council and Brady have teamed up to spread awareness of "family fire," otherwise known as any shooting involving an improperly stored or misused gun found in the home that results in death or injury. When the organizations put out an open call to high school and college students for video submissions to help spread awareness of this issue, the decision to participate came easy to Montagnino.
“The opportunity really stood out [to me] because of my background in video and it's something that I really love to do, especially if it's surrounding a cause that I feel really passionately about.”
From humble beginnings making playful videos of her friends, Montagnino first began to take the medium seriously her sophomore year of high school when she lost a friend and fellow volleyball teammate to suicide. After grieving for her friend and spending time with a cousin who also suffers from depression and suicidal ideation, Montagnino made the decision to put her heartbreak into a work of art. “I realized I had to do something so I made a teen suicide prevention video, and that's when I really started to discover the power of videos and how they can communicate important messages and connect with people.” The result, a ten-minute slam poetry-tinged video called “Swimming,” gained her school accolades as well as showed her the possibilities of the format.
When conceptualizing how she would address the issue of family fire, Montagnino knew that she needed to give a voice to the population who is most at risk. “I really wanted to work with younger children just because of how naturally compelling they are and [how] it’s kind of hard not to get emotional and connect [with] what family fire could mean to the lives of these young people as you see them on camera and talking to you directly.”
Rather than having them talk about the issue outright, Montagnino knew that she needed to connect with viewers first. “[I] thought it would be really interesting if we [could shed] some light on how we are told all of these things and we are worried about all these different safety messages, but a lot of parents aren't really drilling this vital message overall, which is something that is really tricky and dangerous in reality.” To find these children, Montagnino reached out to a local elementary school in her area and told participants’ parents what she was envisioning for the project. “I actually didn't completely tell the kids what it was about, but that was something that was particularly interesting to me because as we were filming... I asked them about what kinds of conversations [they were having] with [their] parents.” The answers she got were unadulterated and real.
While she didn’t mention gun violence to the children outright, she knew that most of them were more than familiar with the issue, as it has become a regular conversation in public schools. “This issue is important because of how acutely affected this population is. In many schools right now... there are so many added security measures, and they are mandating these shooter drills, and talking about what to do if there is a shooter in your school, which is very scary but it's a real possibility.” Amelia also pointed out that between 70% and 90% of school shootings are by a kid who had access to an unsecured gun, which is an instance of family fire, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. “The majority of these suicides, or of suicides in general, are by firearms [found in the home] so it's definitely something we need to think about.”
Montagnino knows the statistics, and knows that staying informed and having conversations with your family is essential in preventing family fire but it’s not the be all end all. Being safe means proper storage, and it’s up to parents and/or gun owners to make sure that proper storage techniques are being implemented. “Something that always comes to mind for me is how parents and gun owners sometimes think that children and teens don't know where the gun is in the home." Referring to a study, Montagnino noted, "1 [out of every] 5 parents who think that their kids haven't handled a gun unsupervised...was mistaken.”
While she plans to continue making videos, Montagnino doesn’t want the message of “You Told Me,” to be forgotten in the shuffle. Amelia hopes that people take away the message that “family fire is a prominent health issue and that really everyone can be affected by it.” She encourages practicing open communication and practicing safe storage as “the first big step” in preventing these deaths.
For Montagnino, there is a direct line between her work in suicide prevention and safer gun storage and she knows that in order to understand and grapple with these tragic occurrences that one must first lead with empathy. She strives to practice empathy everywhere she can in her life, and hopes to volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline after she turns 18.
As for her future, Montagnino isn't sure what to expect but that's just the way she likes it. Asked where she sees herself in 15 years, the high schooler said, "I really have no idea where I'll be and honestly, that's...the exciting part for me. Not really knowing what my life will look like but knowing what drives me and what I'm passionate about.”
The article was sponsored by the Ad Council and Brady.