The Ms. Q&A: Shannon Watts is Certain That Women Can End Gun Violence

Shannon Watts was a stay-at-home mother of five when the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 left 20 elementary school children and six adults dead in Connecticut. The next day, she launched a Facebook group called “One Million Moms for Gun Control.” In the years since, that group became a movement.

Watts launched Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to build that kind of community across the country—organizing chapters in every state as part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the nation. With more than four million supporters, Moms Demand Action is now forming the backbone of the modern movement to end gun violence. In the wake of Parkland, their membership and attendance numbers are skyrocketing—and their members are mobilizing at every level to hold NRA-beholden lawmakers accountable.

Ms. talked to Watts about how the movement has evolved, what happens when women form the front lines and how anyone can start fighting for common-sense gun law reform right now.

You founded Moms Demand in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. What has kept you going, despite threats and setbacks?

There’s nothing new about threatening women who refuse to stay silent, but there’s simply no silencing parents who fear that their children could be taken. America’s gun homicide rate is 25 times the average of other developed nations, and that puts every American child at risk. Our commitment to our children outweighs any fear we may feel from extremist bullies.

How has this movement evolved in the last few years? What lies ahead, and what have you and other advocates learned along the way?

We are currently witnessing an uprising across the country, but this momentum has been building for years. Across the states, concerned Americans have been taking a stand and demanding their lawmakers prioritize their safety and that of their family over the agenda of the gun lobby. Moms Demand Action volunteers have helped 25 states pass legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and in eight states, we’ve helped to pass legislation requiring background checks on every gun sale. And our work is not done. We know we’re winning, but there is more work that needs to be done.

This is why we are putting our lawmakers on notice—they can support common-sense gun laws or we’ll throw them out. We’re in an election year, and we know just how important it is to have lawmakers who are dedicated to this issue. Plain and simple, we cannot save lives with mere statements of “thoughts and prayers. We deserve real gun sense champions who are ready to roll up their sleeves and pass laws that will help reduce gun violence in our communities.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting—and, tragically, the many that preceded it—women have formed a front line in the fight against gun violence, and you’ve been standing there alongside them. How is women’s activism shaping this movement?

History shows us that women have always been on the front lines, shaping the defining moments of our country. Whether it was the Civil Rights movement or even Prohibition, women have been the ones to fight for the future of their families and communities. And it’s no different for the gun violence prevention movement. Women are finding their voices and amplifying those of others to leave this country better than how we found it. So safe to say, we’re just following the historical examples that were continually laid out for us.

How can women and girls across the country get involved in the fight to end gun violence? What are some steps—small and large—that they can take right now, in their communities and at the national level?

There are so many ways to get involved! As with most things these days, technology is our friend. Texting “ACT” to 644-33 will allow you to learn of different ways to get involved in your area. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a grassroots army, and we have a chapter in every state. Joining your local chapter will allow you to learn about the gun bills moving through your legislature, how you can meet with your local lawmakers to discuss these policies and educational campaigns like Be SMART which raise awareness and offers simple solutions for unintentional shootings by children and teen suicides. What’s more, your local chapter can also help you get involved in corporate campaigns that call for some of our favorite companies and service providers to cut ties with the NRA.

You’re also involved with Emerge America and Rise to Run, two organizations that prepare women to run for office. How do you think increasing women’s representation in political life will impact the push for common-sense gun law reform?

I cannot stress this enough—we need more women in office. As it currently stands, women only fill in 17 percent of elected positions in the U.S. We have the power—more than all other past generations—to change this. Running and winning elected positions allows us to build and implement agendas that are focused on enriching our communities and states, instead of leaving them even more vulnerable to gun violence and other social issues. As I stated before, women have defined the most historic moments in our country, and we are determined to keep this narrative going.


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|