To mark the end of 2018, we asked writers to revisit some of the year’s most noteworthy (for good or evil) events, people and ideas. See the other entries here between now and the new year.
When gunfire went off at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last February, I thought to myself, “Not again.” In the five years since the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the following day, when I founded Moms Demand Action, there had been so many mass tragedies. An AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. A nightclub in Orlando, Florida. A music festival in Las Vegas. Another church, this time in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And between all the mass shootings, there’s the daily gun violence that doesn’t make the national headlines. Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed, and hundreds more are wounded.
I was not numb to all this heartbreak, but I worried that too many Americans were beginning to accept these tragedies as the new normal, not realizing that we could fight back ― and that we could win.
And then Parkland happened.
The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School galvanized a new generation of activist students, as well as adults who had been on the sidelines and now resolved to act. Students Demand Action, which had been a pilot program in California, grew to a movement with more than 200 local groups. And Moms Demand Action, which already had a chapter in every state and millions of supporters, tripled its volunteer base. Millions of Americans took to the streets, marching for gun safety, following the lead of teens who would no longer allow lawmakers to turn a blind eye to gun violence.
At Moms Demand Action, meetings and advocacy days that usually saw a handful of or a few dozen volunteers suddenly turned into meetings of hundreds ― or even thousands ― of people.
A monthly meeting in St. Louis swelled to 999 attendees, compared with the usual 100. In Atlanta, more than 2,000 people turned up to our annual advocacy day, up from 100 last year.
I was not numb to all this heartbreak, but I worried that too many Americans were beginning to accept these tragedies as the new normal.
We’d spent five years following the “Field of Dreams” mantra: If you build it, they will come. We had learned how to organize and win. For the three years prior, we boasted a consistent 90 percent win rate of beating back dangerous gun lobby bills in statehouses and passed dozens of strong gun laws at the state level.
And we persuaded brands to improve their gun policies. Moms Demand Action pressured Starbucks to change its gun policy and tell patrons that guns were not welcome in its stores. In July 2013 we launched a campaign asking Starbucks to keep guns out of its cafes. Over the summer, thousands of moms across the country participated in Skip Starbucks Saturdays. Three months later, the CEO of the company announced that guns were not welcome in Starbucks. Chipotle and Target have also asked their customers to leave their guns at home.
The grassroots structure we spent years growing before the Parkland shooting swelled in its wake. Thankfully, our chapters are full of type-A women (and men!) who took in those new volunteers and showed them how to get to work.
And work they did. We leveraged our grassroots power and years of working in state legislatures to help 20 states pass significant gun violence prevention bills this year. In nine of those states, these measures were signed by Republican governors.
In Kansas, Moms Demand Action’s volunteer chapter leader, Jo Ella Hoye, made 22 trips back and forth ― an hour each way ― to demand her lawmakers stop a permitless carry bill. That bill failed to pass, and a measure to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers that the chapter had been working on for three years did pass. And the state’s Republican governor signed it into law.
Soon after that, she and the rest of the Kansas chapter pivoted to organizing for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly. They were determined for gun safety to continue its momentum in Kansas. Hoye and other volunteers attended Kelly’s victory party on election night and screamed with joy as the race was unexpectedly called for her.
Kelly was one of more than 1,000 Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense candidates who won on election night. Not only did voters reject the NRA in 2018, but also, in the ultimate testament to our volunteers’ dedication to changing our laws for the better, 16 of our volunteers won elected office. Among these winners was my dear friend Lucy McBath, a gun violence survivor who defeated NRA A-rated Rep. Karen Handel (R) in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
With our massive influx of volunteers after Parkland, Moms Demand Action volunteers were able to connect with 1.2 million voters before the midterm elections. We called the NRA on its bluff and proved that being tied to the NRA was a liability with voters. In fact, this year an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that for the first time since 2000, the NRA’s favorability was underwater.
We called the NRA on its bluff and proved that being tied to the NRA was a liability with voters.
These victories were symbolic of an important shift: Voters who went to the polls thinking about guns overwhelmingly voted on the side of gun safety — and many of these voters were women.
With so many newly elected gun sense champions, our movement is stronger than ever going into 2019. We’re determined to pass more good gun laws in the states and finally get a win in Congress too.
Voters are looking to the new Congress to finally take meaningful action to address our nation’s gun violence crisis, starting with passing legislation that will require background checks on all gun sales ― a policy that, according to a Pew Research Center poll this fall, over 85 percent of Americans surveyed said they support.
It’s up to our new lawmakers to follow through on passing stronger gun laws. And it’s up to us to keep the pressure up and demand an end to our nation’s gun violence crisis.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a mom of five. She lives in Colorado.