Telling Stories about gun violence in schools and communities

Dateline 11/13/2023


Rick Weiss, Michael Finan

11/18/20234 min read

To date, we at WYHMN have aired on two national webinars.

This is an honor for us as we build exposure to Will You Hear Me Now? for the young voices at the core of our project. Michael Finan was a guest panelist in a summer webinar that addressed responsible storytelling of gun violence in the movie industry which often glorifies assault firearms and minimizes the mayhem and tragedy they cause.

What do we mean by responsible storytelling? How do you approach victims? Survivors? What’s the proper tone for those of us who’ve never been directly impacted by gun violence when speaking to those who have? In the shadow of the Supreme Court’s current reexamination of red flag laws that ban domestic abusers from owning firearms, there is a profound social need for public awareness, empathetic listening, education and respectful dialogue.

Many of these topics are being explored by our premiere partner, the Entertainment Industries Council. EIC is a foundation that seeks accurate and responsible media depiction of the most pressing social challenges of our day, i.e., guns, drugs, violence, mental health. The Council provides national lawmakers and entertainment industries leaders with a communications conduit and resources to reach common goals. EIC’s EITV microsite features its “FearLess” series, a collection of webinars on this very sensitive type of communication and it’s in the most recent FearLess webinar that our clip aired.

This month’s webinar, moderated by psychologist-social worker Dr. Keita Franklin, was packed with advice for approaching all sides of one of the most politically polarizing issues of our day.

Panelists included Tony Montalto, founder of Stand With Parkland, a national organization representing American families. Stand with Parkland is committed to advocating for practical public safety reforms focused on the safety of our children and staff at school, improved mental health support, and responsible firearms ownership. Tony lost his “forever 14” daughter Gina Rose who was murdered at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School that fateful day 5 years ago. He has channeled his grief into activism and has sponsored and advocated effectively for a number of gun safety reform initiatives around what Tony termed their “School Safety Triad” which involves 1—School safety enhancements, 2—Mental health screening and support and 3—Responsible firearms ownership. Stand with Parkland has worked with politicians on a local (Florida) level to shepherd a number of state congressional bills focused on creating safer schools and addressing mental health issues. They also count their advocacy of the national Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (a first national legislative gun safety reform to pass both houses of Congress in nearly 30 years).

Panelist Ben Kessling is a Wall Street Journal reporter who focuses on national defense and veterans’ issues. Ben spent six years in the US Marines as an Infantry Officer, so he brought both his seasoned reporter’s and his soldier’s perspective to dealing with issues and people related to firearms. Ben’s strongest piece of advice was to research, to learn your subject as well as possible, and when discussing it with people on both sides, to listen intently to them and see them as fellow human beings, whether you personally agree with their viewpoint or not.

He believes people who’ve had traumatic experiences often feel people who haven’t are talking around them.

Instead we need to “validate their authenticity.” He believes in checking preconceptions and that stories should focus on people and their unique experiences, more than policies.

Trish Glowacki was the panelist from Glowmedia Project They produce educational shorts that address mental health issues facing teens today. Trish believes that short films are the ideal format for viral dissemination and her project matches their short films with educational guides for students, parents/guardians, and educators for a fresh approach to mental health education. She believes that when we talk about the intersection of gun violence and mental health that the emphasis is too often on the shooter and not the community they’ve impacted. Both she and Tony believed in empowering young people to speak up out of concern for each other, in changing the culture of silence around mental health issues so that people in need of support get the interventions they need sooner than not.

The webinar was packed with insight from these different and compelling presenters who shared their experiences making and shaping media. For us at Will You Hear Me Now?, the “treat” came at the very end of the stream when (@1:02:36) Marie Dyak, President and CEO of the EIC aired a :30 second teaser/trailer of Will You Hear Me Now? We now have a short video screened at another webinar which means that our young voices are getting heard. We are already making a difference and we are being taken seriously. We’re grateful to Marie and the Entertainment Industries Council for the exposure on this national webinar series and encourage our readers to check it out.

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