COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – For several years, Sandy Hook Promise has trained students and staff at schools to recognize the signs of potential violence, and how to handle those situations.
According to one of its co-founders and managing director Mark Barden, countless suicides and several mass shootings have been prevented by the organization’s training programs.
The organization would not be here today had it not been for a horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
Barden’s son, Daniel, was one of the 20 children killed; he was seven years old.
As any traumatic event would, the events of that day changed America. Barden believes that it was the impetus of change that we continue to see many pushing for today.
He says, the change will take time and will not come quickly and that it takes a lot of effort to change a culture, which is what he and his organization is trying to do.
It is also why he has joined with lawmakers at the Ohio Statehouse to support House Bill 123.
The bill does several things, including the creation of an anonymous reporting system and mandates school threat assessment teams as well as student-led violence prevention clubs. It also mandates students are educated on suicide awareness and prevention in addition to social inclusion.
All of these mandates are expected not to cost the schools a dime; all programs are required to be free.
Sandy Hook Promise says it’s able to provide their training free of charge and are quick to note they are not the only source of this kind of training even though they are partial to the way they approach maintaining the training they provide beyond just the class itself.
Recognizing and stopping a school shooter before they become one is only one aspect of the legislation; a focus on suicide is the other.
In 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Health, 1,744 people killed themselves in Ohio. Unofficial numbers for 2018 show the number increased to more than 1,800.
It is estimated that five Ohioans commit suicide every day. For children between the ages of 10 and 19, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
And one final stat, Ohio is the only state in the nation that does not have an official suicide prevention plan.
Tony Coder with the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation says they, along with several other state agencies and groups, are coming up with a plan and expect it will be ready sometime in early 2020.
In the meantime, his organization supports HB 123. He says when teens are confronted by a peer who tells them they are contemplating suicide that they don’t know what to say, or in some cases do.
According to Coder, the programs HB 123 would put in place would give students the training to recognize warning signs in these individuals and the tools they need to help their fellow students if someone does come to them with thoughts of killing themselves.
The bill itself has already surpassed its first major hurdle: making it out of the House of Representatives.
It is now being heard by the Ohio Senate in the Education Committee.
The bill will likely need at least another hearing before the committee could realistically vote on passing it out of committee.
If the bill remains unchanged and is voted out of committee, it would only need to pass on the floor of the Ohio Senate without any changes for it to be headed to the governor’s desk. That may seem like an easy path, but it is not.
Questions from lawmakers on the committee today indicate they are vetting the bill carefully.
On two occasions, they asked if supporters felt the bill was flexible enough. Others inquired about additional things that could be added to the bill that may or may not make it stronger.
Regardless, the Chairman of the Committee State Senator Peggy Lehner mentioned she is prepared to do what she can to improve the safety of all Ohioans from gun violence, even more so now after the mass shooting in Dayton over the summer.
Further, the son of one of the bill’s primary sponsors also sits on the Education Committee in the Senate. Still, that does not guarantee a yes vote for the bill.
If the bill is given another hearing, the next is likely to be open to opponents and possibly interested parties.