When a shooter killed 26 students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Shannon Watts decided enough was enough. “I felt like I had to do something or I would be culpable the next time,” she says. The former corporate executive and mom of five launched a Facebook page that became Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that quickly grew into the grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to reform. Combined, the two groups now mobilize more than 4.5 million volunteers (at press time) with chapters in all 50 states.
So far, Moms Demand Action has successfully advocated for bills that prohibit private gun sales without background checks in eight states and disarm domestic abusers in 25 states (at press time). Now, since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Watts, 47, is focusing on the midterm elections, trying to garner votes for pro-gun safety candidates. “Americans are fed up with offers of thoughts and prayers from lawmakers without taking action,” she says. “These are acts of cowardice by people we’ve elected to protect us.”
Watts walking with her daughter in the 2016 N.Y.C. Pride parade.
Social-media momentum Moms Demand Action uses Facebook and Twitter to coordinate with followers and “pull the lever of spending power,” pushing major companies to enact their own gun-safety policies. “We were able to get Chipotle to prohibit open carry in three days by using the hashtag #burritosnotbullets.”
Overcoming obstacles Immediately after she launched the organization, Watts says, gun extremists started sending death and sexual-violence threats against her and her daughters. “I have to travel with security and use an alias simply because I think every gun sale in this country should require a background check.”
Courtesy Moms Demand Action
Bearing arms The group supports the Second Amendment. In fact, many of its volunteers are gun owners (even Watts’s children’s father owns rifles). “The responsibilities that go along with gun rights need to be restored,” she says. Watts believes more restrictive gun legislation will help reduce America’s gun-homicide rate, which, according to Everytown research, is 25 times higher than the average of any other high-income country. “I don’t think parents in other high-income countries worry about gun safety like American parents do.”
Gun sense “It’s so important we remember that 96 Americans are shot and killed every single day,” Watts says. Which is why her group is pressing for stronger gun-safety bills and policies at both the local and national levels. “I feel like we’ve saved so many lives through the work we’ve done already,” Watts says. “And I know it is just a matter of time until we get a president and Congress in place who will do the right thing.”
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, on newsstands and for digital download May 11.
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