Get a Grip: Santas Against Gun Violence

A man with 50 years of experience in public health — and portraying Santa Claus — shares his thoughts on gun violence in schools.

Get a Grip: Santas Against Gun Violence

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

My name is Art Hoffman. I’ve had over 50 years as a public health professional, addressing a myriad of public health issues. Gun violence is one of them.

My other hat is red and has a white pom-pom on it. “Santa Art” also has a 50-year “career.” It centers upon bringing joy to kids and families throughout our country and according to legend, almost 200 other nations. My mission is to look out for the welfare and safety of children everywhere.

Perhaps because I visit all countries during a very long shift on Christmas Eve, I confront an inescapable reality. We know that mass shootings in the United States occur more frequently than any other country. We also know that since 1970, there have been over 2,000 school shootings in America. The group “Every Town for Gun Safety” reports that, tragically, there have been about 1,000 incidents of gunfire at schools and colleges since Sandy Hook. These figures for mass shootings and school shootings vastly outnumber the corresponding categories for other countries.

Each year, thousands of individuals “get a grip” on a gun and wreak this sort of havoc. Often the target is school children. Earlier this year, we discovered the shooter was a child himself. Yet many discussions and solutions, though well intended, have largely proven unsuccessful. America is plagued by gun violence. Many causative factors exist. Throughout this article, I will offer the perspectives of one individual, uniquely situated with a foot in two different worlds: public health and Santa Claus.

It was gratifying to learn that in Jan. 2023, in Frankfort, Kentucky, students themselves were approached for solutions, identifying ways in which schools can improve their security. This is a novel approach indeed, since too often student feedback is lacking. Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council outlined strategies to adopt before, during, and after school shootings. “Before” included a tip line to report worrisome behavior among students, follow-up, and a desire for stronger gun control legislation. “During” took a look at the active shooter drills, better training for first responders, and notification systems for both parents and students. “After” included necessary mental health support, community support, and acknowledging that not only the school’s physical damage, but the emotional impact on traumatized students and staff, need to be considered. Readers can contact the commission to learn more and stay abreast of their thoughtful and comprehensive approach.

As reported in the Washington Post on Jan. 13, while commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, columnist Colbert King referenced the easy access to guns. Poignantly, he criticized “faith leaders, seemingly on mute.” That was profound and personal to me. Santa Claus is in part a faith leader, dating back about 1,700 years to Saint Nicholas of Myra. Why, then, do so few Santas today even want to discuss the dangers our kids face each day as they set off for school? Why aren’t all Santas speaking out against gun violence? Certainly, none of them can be for it. I have my theories, and undoubtedly you have yours. But it’s time to “get a grip” on this elephant in the room.

In my career, I’ve worked with epidemiologists. They are less concerned with applying Band-Aids on diseases and more invested in seeking out the root causes. Unquestionably, in America, one of the root causes is there are about 400 million guns in a country of 330 million. As others have pointed out, many of these guns are “weapons of war” yet are owned by civilians. On Jan. 24, California Governor Gavin Newsom opined after the two mass shootings in California that the “Second Amendment is becoming a suicide pact.” It is difficult to argue with that logic.

Ironically, the mass shooter in Lewiston, Maine, committed suicide. We learned just days later that three-term Congressman Jared Golden reversed his stance on assault rifles. He now wants them banned (admirable and in defiance of NRA policy) but his rationale was stunning. He did not think that such a shooting in his rural community would occur. Never one thought along those lines amidst all the thoughts and prayers conveyed after each mass shooting? He “stuck to his guns” despite decades of gun violence in virtually every part of every state in America. It would have been more impactful if he could have been the kind of leader described many years ago by Rosalynn Carter: “A leader takes people where they want to go, a great leader takes people where they do not necessarily want to go, but where they ought to be.”

Over thirty years ago, I saw a photo of a boy walking to school wearing a bulletproof backpack. I was dumbfounded at the time since everything about the article and photo presented that as plausible and normal. It seemed that most Americans felt no shock or outrage at that image. But it was certainly a harbinger of things to come. Today, the Internet is full of ads for such products. We have become sufficiently numb that this seems to be a sensible approach now.

What about the outcry over the six-year-old who shot his teacher? Officials evidently were ill-equipped and unprepared according to reports, quoting some as saying, “We’ve had nine and eight and seven-year-olds in the past wielding guns, but never a six-year-old.” Why weren’t barely-older kids a cause for alarm just as much as the younger one is now? The evolution to younger kids was entirely predictable as the four-year-old in Indiana demonstrated a few weeks later.

Why is America so reluctant (afraid?) to examine the root causes of gun violence? Why can’t we “get a grip” on what needs to be explored? After each shooting, it’s always the same: “What’s the motive?” Here’s where the focus should be instead. Since about 98% of the shooters are male, something I have been pointing out for decades, strategies need to be developed to target the ways in which boys are being raised. It was not a young girl who climbed up on my lap a few years ago and claimed, “Santa, I just shot all your Reindeer.” It wasn’t a middle school girl who interjected, “I just shot her” during my taking attendance in a sixth-grade class when I asked why a certain student was absent. And, while I get some requests for the famous Red Ryder BB gun from girls, care to guess the overwhelming gender?

Clearly, it would be worthwhile, almost essential, to address the ways our boys and young men are raised. Forty years ago, I incorporated a valuable model in my workshops that addresses men’s wellness and behavior. It listed six societal expectations for males. Three, in particular, are relevant to this crisis: the traditional masculine role “Give them Hell“ (aggression), “The Sturdy Oak,” (I can solve all problems), and “The Big Wheel,” (I have to be the best in everything). Readers can contact me directly for a more complete analysis of this model.

In summary, I am more convinced than ever that what is needed is a holistic, epidemiological, and political strategy. Piecemeal interventions offer some help. Red flag laws, gun locks, and metal detectors all have a role but continuing the easy access to guns throughout the country in the hands of boys and young men must be addressed. My discussion here is designed to challenge readers to think more broadly along those lines. Professionals need to “get a grip” so that schools and campuses — and society at large — are haunted less by thousands of hands on thousands of grips.

Art Hoffman began his public health career in the 1970s with Planned Parenthood before becoming executive director of Safer New Mexico, a social services organization charged with educating the public about seatbelts, child passenger safety, and DUI issues. He was also involved in smoking prevention and cessation programs while helping to secure a Clean Indoor Act for the state. Art also provided AIDS education and training for doctors, nurses, counselors, and teachers. 

In the 1990s, Art provided physical education classes at a local Catholic school, and pursued various other educational activities such as ESL, adult education programs with the Louisville jail and corrections departments, and assisted with a horse therapy program for disabled children and adults. He officially retired 15 years ago but has remained involved with public health programs in Louisville. During the pandemic, Art devoted a considerable amount of time educating the public on the emerging crisis, capitalizing on his status as Santa Claus. 

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8 responses to “Get a Grip: Santas Against Gun Violence”

  1. Don Corson says:

    One of the ads on this web page from Sandy Hook discusses advertising which glorifies guns targeting young people. We were able to regulate cigaret ads directed to children, maybe we should regulate gun ads directed to children. Good luck with THAT of course!

  2. Harriette Seiler says:

    This is very timely and well written. Mr. Hoffman has “played Santa’ in and around our state for several years. Most recently, he helped bring joy to children in Kentucky communities struck by natural disasters. I always wish the groups fighting gun violence could unite and really pressure our lawmakers to take action–outlawing assault weapons would be a start–but perhaps it is up to voters across multiple states to elect representatives who will stand up to the gun lobby and pass meaningful legislation that will truly save lives in schools and campuses across the country. Call your legislators today!

  3. George says:

    Nothing new to see. The usual rant against “assault weapons” without any acknowledgement that weapons which can hold as many rounds of ammunition, can fire just as fast and were even more accessible have been around for over a century. I and no doubt hundreds of others, attended a virtual meeting yesterday with the US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. Fully 3/4 of all acts of targeted violence are committed with handguns, not rifles. Oops, doesn’t fit the narrative. Most firearms crime involves handguns, not “assault weapons.”

    The “thousands” of acts of “gun violence” (whatever that may be because guns don’t commit violence, only humans do) includes all incidents involving firearms being discharged in and around schools. USSS NTAC was quite accurate in dispelling this myth, but gun control groups love to throw in gang shootings, and criminal activities involving firearms in close proximity to schools to add to their rhetoric of ‘all guns bad.’

    What this country needs to do is take a cold, hard look at what has changed between the 1950’s and today. Societal changes are the issue, not firearms. Prior to 1968, a person could have a firearm, (yes, even an AR15) mailed directly to their home with no background checks required so firearms were much, much more accessible back then. The author ignores this, ignores the significant body of evidence that exists that flatly contradicts his notion that the number of firearms in circulation is the causation of violence involving firearms and the reality that much of the violence where firearms are used is confined to very clearly delineated areas of our nation, most of them in inner cities with their own issues.

    Holding the individuals accountable who facilitate the trade and usage of firearms for unlawful purposes is important. The mother of the 6 year-old referred to in the article was recently sent to jail, and rightfully so because she failed to secure her firearm. Not only that, the school failed to act on numerous warnings about the student, despite this being a critical component of school safety. Ditto with the Oxford, MI school shooter. His parents facilitated and enabled his rampage, as did the school who failed in their threat assessment process. Simply blaming firearms for the myriad of issues surrounding the criminal misuse of firearms is unhelpful and naïve in the extreme. I expected better from Campus Security.

  4. J. R. says:

    Guns aren’t the problem, people are the problem! Snowflakes and an overzealous, incredulous, uninformed, melodramatic puppets manipulate data and statistics for their agenda. Be respectful and professional to your fellow person and see things change, it’s that easy. Stop allowing pasimistic hateful drama queens to enfluence your lives. Yes, it’s that simple. United States means together not apart. Don’t let them win! Stop the hate, embrace the good and live in peace, that should be the American mind set. God Bless America! 🇺🇲

  5. John says:

    It is very clear the stance the writer will take when you see the term “gun violence” used in the title. There is no such thing- it is “crime”, committed by a criminal. You never see “knife”, “rock”, or “fist” “violence” terminology being used- it is a catch phrase used by the anti-gun groups (Like Every Town) with the intent of furthering their goal of banning firearms.
    The statistics used are not correct- they include any incident in and around a school- gang activity and basic crime involving a firearm are included.
    Better criminal justice record keeping, communication between agencies, and transfer of those records to databases should be improved. Mental health records for persons hospitalized in a behavioral health unit or ED (voluntarily or involuntarily) should be included in a secure database. Strict (and swift) punishment for those who use firearms to commit a crime should occur without being permitted to plead down the charges. The death penalty or life in prison without parole should be instituted for those who kill someone while committing a crime and using a weapon.
    Enforce the laws already on the books- there are thousands of them- “feel good” laws only affect the law-abiding firearm owner, not the criminal.
    Banning firearms, strict registration, licensing, taxation, and insurance schemes don’t work. Support and funding of police, funding additional behavioral health services, including inpatient hospital bed additions, “Stop and Frisk”, “Broken Windows” methodologies, and strict adherence to the existing laws and sentencing guidelines, will work.

  6. Summer says:

    This article shows someone who has love and compassion in his his heart with a drive to make things better. He wants to stop the killing. Me too!
    “Do the right thing!” We are all against violence.I hope we can see to teach our children…to
    Do the right thing. Join in with one another and help together to make our lives safer and happier.

  7. William Hodge says:

    Wow, apparently nothing is sacred anymore when Grinches pile on Santa just before Christmas. Good news is that the fallacious arguments of the NRA and second amendment folks are starting to lose traction with more and more Americans. I’m a Vietnam vet and a crack shot with my 45 caliber, don’t need an AR-15 or any other assault weapon to protect myself. I hunt; I own, a hunting rifle, Idaho is a big wild game preserve and am ashamed to think that some feel that assault weapons are needed to take down big game. Or any game for that matter. As a combat Army vet, I know weapons of war when I see them. The simple fact is that the blood of school children murdered in their classrooms is on your hands if you support assault rifles, bump stocks, and expanded magazines.

    Here is my take on folks who are vehemently opposed to reasonable gun control legislation. We could have a Mandalay hotel type AR15 shooting where 60 people are killed and 600+ are injured EVERY day for a year and Congress, NRA and the second amendment guys would not budge from their position one bit. That is sickening.

  8. Thomas Bennett says:

    Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…, and his name is Art. Hoffman’s sensible views on gun control are so grounded in reality and a common sense understanding of public health that we, as an electorate in a supposed democracy, should, in the least, be motivated to examine more seriously how “dark money” contributions to the people we elect pervert our laws and end up protecting the very undisclosed interests that benefit most from those perversions– in this case, the firearms industry and its propagandists.

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