COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For several years, the group 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 current 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 Newton, CT on Dec. 14, 2012.
Barden’s 7-year-old son, Daniel, was one of the 20 children killed.
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.
Barden said 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 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 to be free for the schools.
Sandy Hook Promise said 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.
Recognizing and stopping a school shooter before they become one is only one aspect of the legislation. A focus on suicide is the other.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2017, 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 Ohio is the only state in the nation that does not have an official suicide prevention plan.
Tony Coder, of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, said the organization, 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.
Coder said when teens are confronted by a peer who tells them they are contemplating suicide, 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 has already passed 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 it.
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 Tuesday 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 chairperson of the committee, State Sen. Peggy Lehner, said 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 this past summer.
If the bill is given another hearing, the next is likely to be open to opponents and possibly interested parties.