“The thought that I can’t send him to school and be 100% sure that he is safe … is really devastating,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts tells Moneyish in the wake of Parkland
It’s a uniquely terrifying time to be a mom in America.
Wednesday’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a former student killed 17 innocent people with a legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, delivered a fresh reminder that kids aren’t safe even in their own schools. Since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre that left 20 young children dead, in fact, the nation has seen at least 239 school shootings. In the wake of Parkland, the bulletproof backpack company Bullet Blocker reportedly saw a 30% surge in sales.
“I have a son who is the same age as some of the victims from (Parkland),” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, a mother of five, told Moneyish. “The thought that I can’t send him to school and be 100% sure that he is safe … is really devastating.” Watts, one day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, launched the organization through a Facebook group. Over five-plus years of pushing gun violence prevention at the local, state and national levels, the group now boasts 4 million members and chapters in all 50 states.
Emily Ball Jabbour, a Hoboken City Councilperson who founded the Hudson County, N.J., chapter of Moms Demand, recalled parents at her five-year-old daughter’s school lingering longer than usual the day after the Florida shooting. “It felt much harder to do drop-off Thursday morning,” she told Moneyish. “Parents were upset.” During school visits after such incidents, Jabbour, 37, finds herself ruminating on the building’s potential stopgaps and vulnerabilities; the roughly 200 vulnerable kids congregated in the gymnasium each morning, she added, make her “a little bit uneasy.”
“I am fearful. And if I say to my boys, ‘be careful’ or ‘be cautious,’ what does that mean?” said 54-year-old Reba Holley, a Pennington, N.J. mother of three grown children and Mercer County lead for Moms Demand. “There’s no way to be careful, because you don’t know who’s got a gun.” (Holley grew up in Newtown and graduated from its high school; her mother taught at Sandy Hook.)
The anti-gun violence nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, for which Moms Demand serves as a grassroots arm, launched a “five-action plan” Friday dubbed “Throw Them Out” — a campaign ahead of the 2018 elections to root out lawmakers thriving on gun-lobby money and elect pro-gun safety leaders. The items urge Americans to pledge to vote on gun safety, track how much elected officials receive from the National Rifle Association, register friends to vote, get leaders to go on record about guns through a questionnaire, and run for office. About 400 post-Parkland vigils and rallies are planned, Watts added.
Everytown promotes background checks for firearms, laws keeping guns away from domestic abusers, stronger gun-trafficking laws and education on responsible gun ownership. Last year, it claimed legislative victories along with Moms Demand on legislation in Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah restricting domestic abusers’ access to firearms; laws in Hawaii, Tennessee and Washington state that notify law enforcement when dangerous would-be gun buyers fail a background check; and defeats for the gun lobby on bills in several states.
“People are asking for concrete steps … and that is by holding lawmakers accountable in the midterm elections and beyond,” said Watts, 47. “We need lawmakers to stand up to gun lobbyists so that teachers and students don’t have to stand up to gunmen.” She likened politicians’ customary post-shooting “thoughts and prayers” to an “internet joke”: “And that’s sad, as someone who takes thoughts and prayers seriously.” “I just want to scream and scream and scream,” Jabbour added. “It’s just not good enough anymore. And it’s insulting to hear that continue to be a response.”
In the current climate of resistance, Jabbour said, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting feels somewhat different from its predecessors. “After Sandy Hook happened, I think everybody was almost in shock,” she said. “You put the same sort of scale of tragedy, but you put it in the context of a Trump administration and how this country is feeling, and I feel like it’s much more of a match being lit … I just think the dial has been turned up on the anger level, and that makes people much more passionate.” It’s also far easier now to access data on gun-lobby contributions, she added.
“This already has been sort of rising steadily — this backlash against lawmakers who are opposed to gun safety,” Watts said. “And I just think, sadly, that every time there’s this kind of tragedy, it takes that to remind Americans that we don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to die like this.”
@realDonaldTrump hello I’m the 16 year old girl who tweeted you that I didn’t want your condolences, I wanted gun control, and went viral because of it. I heard you are coming to my community soon. I would love for you to hear my opinions on gun control in person.
– a survivor
— sarah // #NEVERAGAIN (@sarahchad_) February 16, 2018
Another factor: several young shooting survivors, in TV interviews and viral tweets, voicing outrage at the scourge of gun violence and calling on Congress to act. “What you’re hearing is these victims and survivors’ families aren’t waiting a requisite amount of time to call out our lawmakers who are allowing this to happen over and over,” Watts said. “We’re seeing students from that school and parents and community members saying immediately in the wake of the shooting, ‘Enough. We have got to act.’”
Holley, who says gun violence has “always been a hot-button issue” for her and boycotts states with lax gun laws, typically gets around 40 RSVPs for her chapter’s monthly meetings; perhaps 50 or 60 will attend. But as with the aftermaths of mass shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas, she said, Saturday’s previously scheduled meeting drew a much larger crowd: After 80 people RSVP’d, 143 — among them 110 newcomers — showed up.
“Every time there’s another event, we get a large influx of people where this was the line for them,” Holley said. “Because at some point, it’s too much for you to bear and you feel like you want to do or have to do something.”
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