Shannon Watts Is Using Her Mom Power & 'Gun Sense' to Make All Our Kids Safer

Shannon Watts, Moms Who InspireFour years ago, as the horrors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were unfolding on national television, Shannon Watts was a stay-at-home mom, consumed with the day-to-day business of raising her five children. Like so many mothers, Watts was horrified by the transpiring events. But unlike most other moms (myself included), Watts turned her shock and disgust into something incredible, founding Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America within weeks of the terrible tragedy. This alone makes her a natural inclusion in our Moms Who Inspire series.

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Today, Moms Demand Action has grown from a small Facebook group into a strong lobbying force with chapters in all 50 states thanks to Watts's vision, strength, and willingness to fight for all of America's children.

I had the chance to speak with Shannon last week -- and, right away, I had to ask how on earth she'd managed to launch a national organization. Just raising five kids seemed nearly impossible to me, without the additional challenges of, say, taking on the NRA and big gun manufacturers. But Watts laughed, telling CafeMom, "I often consider myself an accidental activist. I had no idea [what I was starting]. It was lightning in a bottle."

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The "lightning" Watts refers to is an almost magical tale of success; as she tells it, in the days following Sandy Hook, she searched the Internet, hoping to find an organization "like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but for guns," she says, to help her try to make sense of the seemingly inexplicable violence. Finding nothing in existence, she started a new Facebook page and, as she explains, it quickly "became so much more. So many moms felt the way I did, that the country was broken and [we had] two choices: leave the country or fight for fixing it." Thus, Moms Demand Action was born -- and, as part of the Everytown for Gun Safety movement, it has become more and more visible in the fight for stronger gun laws.

In short order, Watts and her band of fellow mothers, now over 3 million strong and growing daily, discovered something that we all secretly knew: "The media gets numb [to gun violence] but mothers will never get used to it. Every time it happens, you think 'it could have been my family,'" she says.

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Unfortunately, it's happening more and more: Current stats reveal that 91 Americans are killed by guns every day in this country, not to mention mass shootings like the recent incidents in Santa Barbara and Kalamazoo. "Last summer was a horrible summer for gun violence, and I expect this summer to be even worse," Watts says. "But when Congress failed to pass even basic background check laws, I think that was a turning point. People realized they had to turn out for things to change." Most shockingly, Watts adds, "Just this year, toddlers have shot 23 people. Toddlers!"

Even in the face of such daunting figures, Watts finds the hope and promise that makes her a true inspiration. As she explains, when gun violence gets really bad (and it certainly seems like it couldn't get much worse), "it actually gets people off the sideline because they are too scared to wait until [the shootings] impact their family and community."

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In addition to helping former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley pass his comprehensive gun safety law in 2015 and organizing major protests and rallies like this month's fourth annual Brooklyn Bridge March, Watts has seen smaller (but no less important) victories on the home front, keeping children and families safe from gun violence through her organization's Be Smart program.

"The NRA puts the onus for gun safety on children, having Eddie the Eagle tell them not to touch weapons. We put it back where it belongs on the adults," says Watts. "We teach parents how to safely store their fire arms and to protect their children by asking about guns in homes before sending kids on any playdates."

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Looking ahead, it's Watts's certainty that keeps her going. "We're on the right side of history," she says. "I think someday we'll look back and say 'Wow, we allowed 33,000 people to be killed each year and then Americans rose up.'" Inspiring us to be the change we want to see, Watts shares this final reminder with me: "It's not enough to assume someone else is taking care of it. It's going to take everyone’s voice and vote to get involved and take action."

  

Image via Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images; design by Anne Meadows

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