One thing is immediately apparent about Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts when you first start speaking with her: She’s whip-smart and she knows her s**t.
On Thursday, Devon and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview the stay-at-home mom, who wasn’t a full-blown activist until five years ago. Watts started a Facebook group in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, and it blossomed into Moms Demand, which is now a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, a three million plus member organization fighting for more expansive gun control laws. Moms Demand itself had 4,300 volunteers across all 50 states three years ago, but after the election of Donald Trump, it now boasts a whopping 50,000 volunteers.
“If you know American moms, they’re nothing if not fierce badasses,” said Watts.
One of the group’s top priorities is closing the background check loophole at the federal level, something that is not likely to happen during the current administration. However, the realities of this presidency has caused Watts and her army of moms to double down on efforts at the state and local level. Nineteen states have passed these background check laws, with seven legislatures doing so after the tragedy at Sandy Hook in 2012.
Standing up to the gun lobby has never been easy, though. Watts remarked that threats of sexual violence and death have been hurled at her AND her children. When Moms Demand holds rallies, they are often surrounded by men who are openly carrying AR-15s and AK-47s. And at one chapter meeting in a Dallas restaurant, four women from the local Moms Demand group saw a group of 40 men outside in pick-up trucks, pulling long guns. Yet, the volunteers stand strong.
“You can try to threaten and frighten and intimidate us, but we’re not going away on this issue ever,” Watts asserted.
In many ways, gun control is a feminist issue; more than 50 women are shot and killed in the United States every single month by a domestic partner. Furthermore, the majority of mass shootings in this country involve domestic violence. And certainly, the lack of gender parity at all levels of government has contributed to this uphill battle at the public policy level. With female representation at only 19% in Congress, 25% of state legislatures, and 12% of governorships, women are severely discounted in government.
“As the saying goes, if we’re not at the table, then we’re on the menu,” said Watts.
But with an influx of women signaling that they will run for public office, there is some hope on the horizon. Two hundred Moms Demand members are part of this group of more than 11,000 women who will be throwing their names in the hat. One Houstonian volunteer just won a seat on the city council and another is the new mayor of Nashville, Tennessee. Once women in Moms Demand experience the power of pushing to change policy from external pressure, they want to take that next step of making policy from the inside. Watts, an Emerge America board member, also exclusively announced on Hellbent a new organization called Rise to Run, which will recruit and train young progressive women to run for office (the average age for female candidates is 47).
With the immense energy around the grassroots organizing of Moms Demand, as well as the prospect of even more women in government, Watts feels bullish about future legislative victories: “We’re gonna win this issue; it’s just a matter of time.”