Gun violence is a problem among youth in America—and this is not an opinion. Centers for Disease Control data shows gun-related deaths surpassed car accidents as the number one killer of children in our country in 2020, and that data hasn’t changed today, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
This is where a new locally produced film is coming into play. “Blink,” created by Safe & Sound Hillsborough and Axiom Films, is a short film that not only aims to educate kids in our community, but help them realize how a split-second decision made in the blink of an eye can have lifelong consequences.
We caught up with one of the producers of “Blink,” Freddy Barton, who is also the executive director of Safe & Sound Hillsborough, to dive into the importance of the movie’s message and what we can do as a community to reverse the troubling uptick of gun violence.
What inspired the creation of “Blink“ and what do local families need to know about children and gun violence in our community?
Barton: Although this was a part of our gun violence prevention initiative funded by Hillsborough County, this film was birthed out of the idea of “reversing the bullet”. Too many times, we hear about gun violence…a shooting occurring in our community, youth getting access to guns, and we see the image of a bullet going forward causing wreckage.
In a meeting with my team at Safe & Sound Hillsborough I thought, “What if we could reverse that bullet?” Meaning, changing not the bullet, but the decisions that led up to someone firing it in the first place. What could we do, what must we do, as a community, to make sure that happens. We saw the numbers rising regarding youth picking up guns out of anger or reprisal. We had to get a message to the greater community that we have to act NOW to address this issue.
We also knew that we couldn’t put a piece together that only addressed gun violence. Mental health, relationship, anger management, responsibilities of parents/guardians, teachers and community members…all of these issues can be seen throughout the film. The more you watch it, the more you see…the more you connect with…and the more you feel.
Why the title “Blink”?
Barton: We threw around several titles as a team, but landed on “Blink”, not just because of the immediate thought of how life can change in one second, but how sometimes in the moment, one pause, one thought, one blink, is all that is needed to prevent something from happening.
In the film, we hear the main character tell himself to blink…because all he could do was stare with his eyes wide open as he either is reflecting on decisions, contemplating his future, thinking of his mother and family, and many other things. We landed on “Blink” because, life truly goes so fast that we have to realize how precious it really is.
You used local actors in the film. Talk about that and the impact it has had on them.
Barton: It was very important to us to have local individuals participate in this film, especially youth in our program at the Reporting Center. We serve male youth that have gotten into trouble, some even on gun charges themselves. In order to address this issue with them, it was important to involve them. To this day, several of them that served as extras or support in the film talk about it, and are ready to begin work on the next film “Blink Twice”. This has served as a way to keep them positively engaged, and excited about something that benefits the entire community.
What can families do to protect their children and educate them about guns and gun violence?
Barton: FIRST AND FOREMOST…Let’s PLEASE stop leaving guns in cars! It’s not that hard, people. I have a friend of mine who carries a firearm with him at all times say to me that he actually puts his cell phone in his glove compartment while he drives so that when he gets out of the car, he can’t help but to see his firearm when he gets his phone. Whatever trick it takes to help this, let’s commit to doing it!
Secondly, every parent, no matter where you live, should go in their children’s room…check under the bed, in the pillow case, in the closet, in the drawers. Check the bookbag before school. Check it after school. Know who your children are hanging out with. Talk with your children.
Educate your children when they are young that guns are not toys. For our little children, if and when you see a gun, run. Tell someone. Don’t touch it. For our older teens, understand that you don’t have to pick up a firearm just because someone else does it or because someone makes you mad. There is always another way to deal with something. And you might just save a life by doing so. This film addresses that in so many ways.
Are there resources out there for parents who may be concerned for their child?
Barton: There are several mentoring organizations for youth in Hillsborough County that parents can take advantage of. Seek them out, contact Safe & Sound Hillsborough and we can connect you, or provide someone to help engage with your child. Regarding safety from firearms in the home, all of our local law enforcement agencies have gun locks available to secure them in the home or in the car. TAKE ADVANTAGE!
What is contributing to the increase in gun violence among children in our community?
Barton: Right now, social media is crippling us. The thought of instant likes appeal to so many of our youth, and the desensitizing that has occurred regarding gun violence has grown through social media. Our kids now think its cool to post on social media with guns so much that they are getting their hands on them by any means necessary just to post for likes and feedback.
We also know that some of our youth lack the coping skills needed to address issues without resorting to gun violence. We have got to thrust mental health at the forefront of every conversation. Safe & Sound Hillsborough provides Mental Health First Aid training to individuals and organizations for free to help people identify signs and symptoms of mental illness or a negative episode for adults as well as youth.
How can parents view the film?
Barton: Anyone can go to our website at www.safeandsoundhillsborough.org and click on “Blink the Short Film” to access the link. While anyone can watch it, we are still offering the chance to facilitate a talkback discussion after a public viewing. We have shown the film at churches, at community events and amongst youth groups and the value has been not just in watching the film, but in organized discussion afterwards that focuses on community solutions to this problem. Anyone wanting a facilitated discussion can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You mentioned you are working on a sequel–what can you tell us about that?
Barton: YES! We are working on the script for Blink 2 (Blink Twice). It will cover quite a bit that was left hanging at the end of the last film. What happened to the other youth (shooter)? How is Jayden going to cope with the decisions that he made and the fallout because of them? The first film evokes a lot of emotion from different perspectives. The second film will go even deeper. “Blink” focuses mainly on Jayden as he goes through his process. “Blink Twice” will hear from everyone else around him. It is definitely going to make people think!
How can we keep the conversation going about gun safety?
Barton: Simple…DON’T STOP TALKING ABOUT IT! Show the film to your children, to your family, to your friends, to your peers. Think on what you can do as an individual. Mentor or volunteer with a young person. Talk to your children about guns.
Anything else you want to add?
Barton: We want to make sure people know that this film and the conversations are not against guns, ammunition, the right to carry or defend oneself. It is about what the community needs to do to prevent senseless gun violence that is affecting our youth today. We all have a role to play.
Photos courtesy of Axion Pictures and Safe & Sound Hillsborough | Originally published in July 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.