Moms Have Arrived as a Political Force in Gun Policy Debate

It's one thing to back courageous leaders who stand up to the gun lobby, but it's another to thank them with our votes. Last week represented a chance to test the theory that mobilizing moms can be a successful electoral strategy.
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I founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America two years ago with a simple hypothesis in mind: if mothers could come together to channel our voices and talents into a coherent and organized movement for gun sense, we could bring about meaningful policy changes and help save lives.

Moms understand the horror of gun violence. We're the ones whose kids are terrified by active shooter drills when they go to elementary school and who worry that they could be victims of the next school shooting. Many of us know someone who or have ourselves lived in fear of a domestic abuser and understand that the combination of firearms and domestic violence is all-too-often deadly. We worry about whether our children are safe when they go to a playdate because a friend's parent's gun may not be stored responsibly.

Fueled by the belief that dangerous policies and lax laws lead only to more heartache, we've quickly grown into an organization with chapters in all 50 states and 2.5 million supporters. In a short time, our members have already helped lead the fight for a new background checks bill in Colorado last September. We advocated for gun sense policies at statehouses in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York and ultimately helped to bring about critically important gun reform bills in those states.

To become recognized as a truly potent political force, though, we've always understood that nothing speaks more powerfully than winning elections. After all, politicians won't take on the gun lobby without an army of impassioned gun sense champions along side them.

Last week represented our first chance to test the theory that mobilizing moms can be a successful electoral strategy. It's one thing to back courageous leaders who stand up to the gun lobby with thank you notes and rallies, but it's another to thank them with our votes. Doing that is the ultimate test of a movement's credibility and the most closely watched metric for measuring momentum.

I'm proud to say that the evening's results offered proof positive that moms who vote with gun sense have arrived as a political force. Across the country, the candidates we supported the issues we organized around, won.

In Colorado, the gun lobby spent huge sums of money to defeat Governor Hickenlooper, but just as we promised we would when he signed the landmark background checks bill last year, moms had his back. We phone banked, canvassed, and educated Colorado voters. The result? In a year when incumbents were replaced in record numbers, a gun sense champion in a swing state with a long tradition of gun ownership came out on top. Exit polling showed that his margin of victory among women put him over the top.

In Connecticut, where Dan Malloy repeatedly touted his gun reform bill passed in the wake of Sandy Hook as his signature accomplishment, moms once again put in motion a field operation to get out the vote. Women voted overwhelmingly in Malloy's favor and even though he faced a well-funded, formidable foe, Malloy won by 1.5 points and a larger margin than he won by in 2010. One poll had him winning by 15 points among women.

In New York we helped re-elect Governor Cuomo based on his championing of new laws to close the state's background check loophole, and we helped elect a new governor with gun sense in Pennsylvania. In Oregon we helped elect a new majority to hopefully pass background check legislation in 2015, and in Maryland we helped elect an attorney general who ran on a platform of gun safety.

Moms also used their organizing power in Washington state to bring the question of background checks directly to voters for the first time ever. Our volunteers worked tirelessly collecting petition signatures, knocking on doors, holding house parties, organizing phone banks, and making contact with thousands of voters. In the end, Washington state's initiative -- I-594 -- passed with ease, making Washington the first state ever to close the background check loophole by popular vote.

It's clear that moms can make the difference, but the fight for saner gun laws in states throughout the country is far from over. Cynics say we won't be able to duplicate our 2014 successes in other election cycles, but time has never inhibited the vision of great women's movements and we won't look back now. The women's suffrage movement started in 1848, but it took 45 years until the first state allowed women the right to vote in 1893. MADD was founded in 1984, but it took 14 years to pass zero tolerance laws in all 50 states.

It's incumbent upon American moms to continue showing we can win everywhere. Already, our members are busy making plans to pass a background checks initiative in Nevada and make no mistake about it: in time, we'll begin bringing this fight to other states as well.

After the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill last April, the pundits and even media said our movement was dead and that if we couldn't pass meaningful federal legislation in the wake of Sandy Hook, we never would. But that narrow loss in DC actually emboldened moms and helped lay the foundation for the state-by-state strategy that ended up yielding so much success this election cycle. Our strategy was predicated on the simple idea that if Washington politicians won't act, we'll take this fight to directly to state houses and voters across the country.

We believe that mothers, not lobbyists, can and should have a voice in shaping our nation's gun policies, rather than lobbyists who exploit and profit from lax laws. Our wins, our growth, and Tuesday's results show that while the gun lobby can bully politicians, they can't bully American mothers.

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