Moms Demand Action founder speaks on gun violence prevention
Looking out at more than 120 people in Darien’s Wee Burn Country Club, Shannon Watts, wearing a huge smile, said “We are winning.”
“We’re winning this battle every single day — in statehouses and in boardrooms,” said Watts, founder of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a movement intended to stop gun violence. MDA has 300,000 active volunteers and a chapter in every state.
She’s also the author of “Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.”
Watts, who travels across the United States, was the guest speaker at a gathering of the Darien chapter of the League of Women Voters on Sept. 19.
News on the gun control debate appears to be taking place moment to moment, since on the very day Watts spoke, two events occurred: The first, which took place during Watts’ talk in Darien, was that gun manufacturer Colt announced it will stop producing AR-15 rifles for consumers.
Second, when Watts spoke at a book signing at Byrd’s Books in Bethel later that evening, additional security was on hand, as a result of a threat made by a local resident in support of carrying guns.
“There were local folks who had made vague, non-direct threats through a Facebook post, where they could have come and caused trouble,” said manager Steve Hutchinson.“We had to ask the local PD to check in on us.”
The threat said that gun rights activists should open carry on the sidewalk, according to Hutchinson.
Despite the post, there was no incident at the event.
Watts shared many words of advice at the League of Women Voters talk, including that it’s not necessary to know everything about a topic before taking action.
“When I started Moms Demand Action, it was because I was the mother of five living in surburban Indiana. I had never heard of any place called Newtown, Connecticut. I knew nothing about gun laws, gun violence, activism, [and] organizing. I only knew that our nation was broken,” said Watts, who now lives in California.
Yet, she immediately started a Facebook page from her kitchen.
“I could have waited until I knew more about gun laws or organizing, but the moment would have passed,” Watts said.
“I think as women, we often feel that we need to be perfect, that we can’t make mistakes, and too often we miss the moment because of that.”
A second lesson Watts shared is that “failure is feedback.”
“This means that not everything is going to go smoothly,” Watts said. “There will be some setbacks along the way.”
One such setback, Watts said, was the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, which would require background checks on most private party firearm sales.
“We felt very confident that this would get passed,” Watts said.
However, the bill failed by a handful of votes. According to Watts, the senators voted against it “because they hadn’t heard from our side. They only heard from the other side.”
“We vowed never to have that happen again,” she said, to loud clapping from the audience.
One way they got their voice heard was in 2013, when MDA supporters protested Starbucks allowing guns inside its stores.
“We embarked on a ‘Momcott’ and skipped Starbucks on Saturdays,” Watts said. MDA supporters took photos whenever they had coffee at Starbucks’ competitors or at others’ homes, “and we made it go viral.”
Three months later, guns were no longer welcome inside Starbucks.
“Three months, that’s all it took — this very small group of moms,” Watts said. “We realized that that was a lever of power we could pull.”
Elected officials who attended the League of Women Voters event included State Reps. Terrie Wood, Matt Blumenthal, Lucy Dathan, and Mae Flexer, as well as Darien’s Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman, and board member Jill McCammon.
Wood told The Darien Times she found Watts to be “inspiring,” and came away with “some very good ideas we can put forward in the Connecticut legislature this coming session.”
Connecticut is a “leader” on gun safety, Blumenthal said. “The unfortunate, horrible experience in Sandy Hook motivated us to save every life that we can from gun violence. Our gun laws have made us safer. The data show it. Lives have been saved here in Connecticut and we’re going to continue to work to save every life that we can from gun violence, and we hope other states will follow our lead in acting as proven gun safety advocates.”
Moms Demand Action has created new campaigns and strengthened existing ones intended to educate the public on gun safety, according to Watts.
One of these, called BeSmart, encourages and educates adults on how to keep their families and children safe through measures such as securing guns in homes and asking about unsecured guns in other’s homes.
Another is a Red Flag Law education program, which helps educate families and police on how to petition judges for a temporary restraining order to remove guns from people who are a danger to themselves or others.
Alexis Gevanter, Moms Demand Action Connecticut chapter leader, spoke to The Darien Times about two recent two safe storage bills passed in Connecticut and actively advocated for by MDA. One of these is Ethan’s Law, which requires gun owners to store firearms whether they are loaded or unloaded in a securely locked container, if a person under 18 is likely to gain access without permission.
Also, MDA advocated for the passage of a safe storage law requiring any gun in an unattended car be stored in the trunk, a locked safe, or a locked glove box.
In addition, MDA advocated to maintain funding levels for Project Longevity, a community organization that works with people who are at risk of becoming victims of gun violence.
Watts and Gevanter told The Darien Times some ways citizens can promote gun safety. These include:
Show up: Show up in statehouses to support or oppose bills.
Spread the word: Canvas, make calls, and support candidates who have gun sense candidate distinctions.
Educate: Teach others about guns safety laws that currently exist and how to utilize them.
Volunteer: To get involved in Moms Demand Action, text the word “Ready” to 64433.
“Recruitment builds the movement. Our strength is our people,” Gevanter said. “We are joined together by a single cause. In the end, we’re just looking for ways to keep our family safe.”
Watts said it’s “life changing” that she gets to work with “amazing women all across the country, all perfect strangers but all are working together for a common good.”
To learn more, visit momsdemandaction.org.