On Wednesday, April 27, I had the good fortune to hear Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, in a question-and-answer session at The Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas. I became active in the gun-violence prevention movement in January 2013 when our state legislators attempted to pass a campus-carry bill, and since Shannon had founded Moms Demand a year earlier, on December 15, 2012, I got to know her through various social-media channels. But I had never met her.
Having met her, and spoken with her now, I see why Shannon is a powerful advocate for gun-violence prevention. First, she has no hidden agendas—she is not secretly attempting to confiscate firearms from American gun-owners; she isn't attempting to vilify gun-owners (in fact, her organization's members include gun-owners); and she isn't even attempting to repeal the Second Amendment.
She is simply trying to make America a safer place to live, work, and raise children. The organization's platform is difficult to criticize, once it's understood. (And the gun-lobbyists have worked overtime to misrepresent it.)
In fact, her major initiatives find broad support among the American public: she advocates for universal background checks on all purchases of firearms, and she proposes to do this by closing the loopholes on gun-show and internet gun-sales, where background checks are not required. (Amy Schumer, in fact, has weighed in on this enormous problem in another of her biting, hilarious videos. You can, and must, view it here.)
For the record, though, 90% of the American public support these proposals, as well as 75% of the NRA's membership. And gun-owners in general overwhelmingly support them as well.
Shannon also advocates for safe-storage of all firearms within the home, a simple and preventive measure that would stop the rash of child-shootings that are now part of our daily headlines—shootings that are routinely ignored by the national media.
The problem, of course, as Shannon said, lies with our politicians who continue to support bills that the public opposes, and they do so because they are paid to do it by the NRA. It isn't news, it isn't complicated, but it is formidable: money and politics make powerful and, at times, destructive allies.
But 91 people in America die from gunshot wounds every day, and Moms Demand, like most every American, believes that this figure is a national embarrassment. So, the organization is working to decrease that number, and they have been very successful to date in building a campaign with both short and long-term goals. And remember, the NRA has been working its agenda for 30 years, and Moms Demand has been around for a little over four years. Their impact has been little short of miraculous.
Of course, Moms Demand is part of a network of gun-violence prevention groups, such as the Brady Campaign, whose roots extend back to the 70's, but Shannon's organization, as its name implies, focuses on mothers (although everyone is welcome), and as a result has a distinctly grass-roots feel to it that is designed to allow even the busiest Americans to participate in meaningful ways, often through a few minutes at the keyboard using social media or on the phone calling an elected official.
The success of Moms Demand in uniting mothers at this fundamental level was obvious in Little Rock. I knew many of these women previously through social-media connections, but had never met them. Jamie Ford, Jaimee Alverson, Kat Koran Hills, Austin Gelder Bailey, Julie Dunekacke Jaeger, Shelley Adams—and others whose names I should, but can't recall—are working quietly in Little Rock, and well beyond, to make our country a safer place.
The important thing to note about Moms Demand, as an organization devoted to reform through political channels, is that Shannon has insisted that no action taken on behalf of gun-violence-prevention is too small. One tweet, strategically hash-tagged, will have an impact. As her organization has grown, she has kept that message in the foreground, and this tactic has served the movement well.
It's also important to articulate one of the unspoken assumptions behind the success of Moms Demand: the horrific and inexcusable levels of gun-violence in America are so clear and obvious that when one American becomes aware of these levels, the gun-violence prevention movement has gained another supporter.
So, Moms Demand, first of all, is about raising awareness, and that can be done with just a few clicks a day. Their website is full of helpful suggestions about how anyone can do this, and once you become involved with this group of talented women, you will find solid guidance about getting further involved with the movement at a level that you can sustain. And that is one of the reasons the movement has grown: sustainable involvement is the focus.
Anyone can make a difference. It's an obvious, simple, and often overlooked truth. But it's also a profound truth.
Historical aside: Gandhi repeatedly said the same thing about nonviolence—embrace it only to the extent that you can sustain it. Sustainability is essential to a successful social action, and Shannon clearly knows this.
So finally thanks to Shannon Watts, thanks to Jamie Ford, who oversees the organization of several states in this region, and thanks to all the women that I met in Little Rock who are working to make Arkansas a safer state, at times against heavy odds. While resisting gun-legislation in a red state is a multi-faceted operation, Moms Demand is in the fight with us in a big way. They have extremely smart, energetic, and dedicated workers, and I am thankful that they are here.
Now, if we could just get a Fayetteville chapter started!