Meet the Moms Fighting To Change the Legislation Around Gun Safety

In December, the New York Times published a line that no doubt made every parent’s heart hurt a little more, that sent us all running to squeeze our children one more time.

The line: “Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children.” Said another way: more children in America are dying due to gun violence than due to any other reason.

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That statement — that fact — is simply horrifying, especially with the tragedy in Uvalde still looming large at the forefront of our minds. Especially with the reality that lawmakers have made little to no progress on gun reform beyond perfecting their ineffectual “thoughts and prayers” tweets.

Enter mother-of-five Shannon Watts.

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Watts was motivated to act after Sandy Hook. More than motivated. “I just sort of stopped what I was doing and sat on the edge of my bed, watching this tragedy unfold, just sobbing and so devastated,” she told The Washington Post. “The next day, when I woke up, that sadness had turned into rage. I knew I had to do something.”

What Watts did was start Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Moms Demand Action is “a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.”

What began from Watts’ home as a Facebook group of like-minded moms has become a force with ten million supporters and chapters in every state, largely overshadowing the influence of the National Rifle Association. This past November, it became more than a force — it became a vehicle for real change when more than 140 Moms Demand Action volunteers won legislative office.

“Shannon and that organization knew a real key to success would not just be policy change, but a change in personnel; you needed to change who was making the decision about gun policy,” Kristin Goss, professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University told The Washington Post.

Just this week, Shannon Watts announced that she’s decided it’s the “right time” to let someone else take the reins. “I have asked myself, honestly, every year since I started this organization: Is it time for me to step back and let other people step forward?” she told The Washington Post. She will stay on long enough to help ease the transition, and aims to “raise the profile of others who can help fill the void” that her departure will leave behind. But Watts is leaving her organization in capable hands, as evidenced by not only the number of Moms Demand Action volunteers, but the number of newly-elected Moms Demand Action volunteers who are now working to change the political landscape where gun violence is concerned.

Here’s a look at just a few of the inspiring folks who are now making the decisions about gun policy.

Twenty-three-year-old Nabeela Syed, an Indian Muslim American, flipped a seat held by Republicans to become the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly. She ran on a platform of gun reform, affordable healthcare, and reproductive justice and spoke to a community that often feels like it doesn’t belong. In an interview with NBC News, Syed reflected on how important her victory was to her community at large. She said, “It’s important for me — growing up in this community and knowing what it feels like to not belong — to make sure everyone feels like they do belong … I hope it feels to other young people and to women of color that we can do this. We have space here.”

In Minnesota, Erin Maye Quade, became one of the first Black women and out LGBTQ women ever elected to the Minnesota state Senate. As a previous member of the House legislature, Maye Quade is no stranger to politics, but this time, she’s in the majority and is looking forward to all the ways that will enable real change. Her priority: background checks. “Universal background checks on all gun sales. I can’t believe it’s almost 2023 and we’re still having this conversation,” she said in December.

After a decade of tireless leadership for the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action, this past November Jennifer Boylan won a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. “I am excited to get to work as a lawmaker for my community,” she told The East Providence Post. “We all deserve to live in safe, thriving communities with top-notch education and employment opportunities.”

In Missouri, Jamie Johnson is the first Black state legislator for Platte County. The mom of three flipped a seat previously held by Republicans and is now ready to do “the most good” that she can.

In Indiana, Andrea Hunley — a high school principal and mom of three — became the first Black person to represent her district. She was inspired to run after a student protest left her wondering whether she was doing enough. One of her priorities is Indiana’s permitless carry law. With respect to that law, she told Chalkbeat, “The people who are currently in our state legislature are well-meaning people, but none of them grew up in Fort Wayne on a street riddled with gun violence, who live with this fear that at any moment, one of my kids could be shot.”

Bonnie Westlin won a seat in the Minnesota State Senate after running on a campaign that recognized how little success Minnesota has had in passing gun violence prevention measures. She supports expanding background checks on all gun sales in Minnesota and Red Flag legislation.

In Los Angeles, voters elected Rep. Karen Bass as mayor. She is committed to fighting for social justice and addressing poverty and crime, among other things, in South Los Angeles. “The people of Los Angeles just elected a steadfast gun sense champion who will do everything in her power to keep Angelenos safe from gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown of Gun Safety

In total, Moms Demand Action volunteers ran for office in 42 states. About half were first-time candidates, and many shattered glass ceilings that once upon a time seemed unbreakable. For the first time in a long time, it feels like we can expect to see a real shift in gun control, certainly more than thoughts and prayers. With Moms Demand Action volunteers in office, it’s highly likely that we will see real progress on universal background checks, disarming domestic abusers, and extreme risk/red flag laws, which are laws that would empower family members or law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily limit access to a gun for anyone who has proven to be a danger to themselves or others.

Moms — and dads — have long known that the “thoughts and prayers” offered up by our lawmakers are not enough. We’ve long known it’s untenable to keep sending our kids to school and hoping for the best. For more than a decade, we’ve known we need real change.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Shannon Watts and the volunteers of Moms Demand Action — and the newly elected officials — for the first time in a long time, it feels like that change is right around the corner.

These celebrity parents are vocal about their stance on gun violence.

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