Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts brings her activist capabilities to the Bay Area.
When Shannon Watts started Moms Demand Action nearly eight years ago, she had no idea how the decision would change not only her life, but also the national conversation surrounding gun violence. On Dec. 14, 2012, the stay-at-home mom of five was folding laundry when news broke on TV of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“That day, like everyone in America, I was incredibly devastated,” Watts says. Politicians soon began claiming that the solution was to arm teachers—a measure that, Watts knew, would only exacerbate the problem. In her frustration, Watts took to Facebook to find a women-centric organization dedicated to solving the crisis on a national scale. Coming up empty, she made her own Facebook page and found that her call to action resonated with people across the country. “So many women and moms started pouring into my Facebook page and finding my information online and reaching out to me saying, ‘I want to do this where I live too,’” Watts says.
Watts’ desire for action manifested into a key component of Everytown for Gun Safety and became America’s largest grassroots gun violence prevention group. In less than eight years, Moms Demand Action has established chapters in every state and Washington, D.C., and accumulated 6 million supporters. Watts’ experiences along the way are detailed in a book titled Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World (HarperCollins), released in May 2019.
More recently, Moms Demand Action helped enact regulations in California, Watts’ home of one and a half years, including closing a loophole that allowed guns on K-12 campuses, strengthening requirements for concealed carry permits and redefining the circumstances under which the use of lethal force by a peace officer is considered justifiable. Last fall, the organization helped raise awareness for a law that allows police and family to petition for the temporary removal of firearms from someone who might be at risk of causing harm. The California chapter also partners with gun violence prevention advocates to raise funding for local violence interruption programs, such as Youth ALIVE! and Urban Peace Institute.
Despite budget cuts brought on by COVID-19, Watts says the organization worked with a coalition led by Giffords of more than 40 gun safety and violence prevention groups to protect $30 million allocated from last year’s budget cycle and to secure $9 million in funding for these programs. Because Moms Demand Action started online, the ability to prevail over the challenges brought on by COVID-19 comes as second nature, Watts says. “These technologies really do make activism more equitable and more inclusive,” she says. “I think we’ll use them even when we are doing in-person events again.”
For the time being, Watts is excited to supplement her advocacy efforts with exploring San Francisco and indulging in hobbies like gardening. The Indiana native now has more personal time on her hands, as her children have all left the nest. But that motherly instinct will never dissipate, not when it comes to making a home out of a new environment, nor on the issue of ensuring a better tomorrow for generations to come.
Photography by: Courtesy of shannon watts