Moms Nationwide Will Demand “No More Silence” on Gun Violence Tomorrow on Newtown Anniversary
In 1999, just four days after the Columbine High School shooting, Kim Russell was out with her good friend Philip, a high school teacher.
“We talked about Columbine all night,” Russell said.
After dinner, the two were on their way to an art event when they were held up, robbed and shot. Russell survived the shooting; Philip didn’t.
Early on, Russell suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She hadn’t had an episode of PTSD for years, until Dec. 14, 2012 after hearing about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Instead of reliving the terror that I had experienced, this time it was replaced with my children,” Russell said. “My daughter was in first grade at the time, and my son was in pre-K, and I couldn’t shake this image of what I had experienced happening to my kids. And something just hit me, and I knew I had to do something, and if I didn’t I would be complicit if this continued to happen.”
The day after the Sandy Hook shooting, Russell helped form Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots movement of mothers demanding common-sense gun reforms.
This Saturday, the group, along with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, will honor the Sandy Hook victims as well as the thousands nationwide who lose their lives to gun violence each year. More than 50 No More Silence events will take place across 40 states. Survivors of gun violence, activists and other community members will share their stories and call for gun reform. The events will culminate in a communal bell ringing to honor gun violence victims. Of these victims, nearly 200 of them this past year were children under the age of 12.
“What we are really showing is that American mothers will never be silent again about gun violence,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
The day after Sandy Hook, Watts began searching for a group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving that was geared toward gun reform. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to start a Facebook page.
“I just thought, I know so many mothers across the country that feel the way I do today, and if we could all get together and fight for this it would just be so powerful,” Watts said. “And I felt like if I didn’t do something, especially as a mother, then I would be culpable the next time this happened in America.”
Within days, she said, the organization received much assistance, from pro-bono support to donations. The mothers worked together to divide up into chapters. One year later, Moms Demand Action has 125,000 members and a chapter in every state.
Watts said the group first and foremost is fighting for background checks. They also support an assault weapons ban, an online sales ban, tracking sales of large quantities of ammunition, child-safe gun technology, product safety oversight, and laws to hold adults criminally negligible if they do not safely store their firearms. She said the group has made much progress since its founding a year ago.
“Despite what pundits may say because the Senate did not pass background checks, we really feel strongly that 2013 was a watershed year for gun reform, mainly because moms finally got involved and said enough is enough,” Watts said. “And if you look at the history of our country, any time moms get involved — whether it’s suffrage or segregation or the Vietnam War or children’s rights or drunk driving — change happens.”
On the federal level, the group had major wins in supporting and electing candidates who support gun reform, such as senators Edward Markey and Cory Booker, Congressman John Tierney and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. They also pushed and got a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — the first director in seven years. In August, they met with Sen. Harry Reid, who promised them another vote on background checks before midterms.
On the state level, Moms Demand Action pushed through and helped pass sweeping gun reform legislation in Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, and New York, and smaller victories in California and New Jersey. They blocked detrimental legislation in Missouri. On the corporate front, they successfully pressured Starbucks to stop allowing guns in its stores.
Watts said that next year, they are focused on voting in new members of Congress in the midterm elections.
“People seem to think that in just days we were going to change the hearts and minds of legislators,” Watts said. “We had the same legislators the day before Sandy Hook as the day after. It is time to vote women and mothers into Congress and men who support gun reform. And I really believe that we can make gun violence prevention one of the top issues women vote on going into the midterm elections.”
She said they will also revisit states like Washington, Minnesota and Oregon that were close to passing background checks, and they will pressure more companies to be gun-free business environments.
Watts said Moms Demand Action’s biggest obstacle is the gun lobby, which has a 30-year head start. However, she believes that mothers will prevail.
“The gun lobby is trying to make gun owners afraid that their guns will be taken away. But moms are afraid our children’s lives will be taken away,” Watts said. “Their motive is profit and our motive is keeping our children safe. And we just have to go toe-to-toe with them in a way that hasn’t been done in this country.”
Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have co-sponsored this powerful commercial that is making the rounds:
There will not be a No More Silence event held in Newtown this year, as the town has issued a privacy appeal to the media and other visitors. The victims’ families have requested that people who want to help should “consider performing an act of kindness or volunteering with a charitable organization in your local community,” adding that, “in this way, we hope that some small measure of good may be returned to the world.” Though they will technically remain silent on the anniversary of the shooting, the victims’ families have put together a website called My Sandy Hook Family that tells the victims’ life stories, and ultimately makes it clear that change is desperately needed.
Watts said it’s vital for people to get involved with the fight for gun reform now, and she hopes to see an outpouring of support this Saturday.
She said, “It is important that people show up in honor of those lost in Sandy Hook Elementary, in honor of all victims of gun violence because if we don’t act, we are all going to be affected at some point, and nobody wants that tragedy in their lives.”
To find a No More Silence event near you, check out the website here.