25 % of fatalities victims in mass shootings from 2009 to 2016 were children. (That figure does not include the gunshot injuries inflicted on children)
After the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown in 2012, Shannon Watts started a Facebook page, calling attention to the tragic events of that day and other horrible incidents where children were victims of mass shootings. Her goal was to propel community awareness to organize solutions to combat gun violence. Over time, a following developed across the country, including Arizona when mothers in the state reached out to Watts, looking for ways to get involved. Out of this initial grassroots momentum, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense formed.
Today, Moms Demand Action is united with Everytown Survivor and Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the umbrella organization Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country.
There is one state chapter in Arizona with five local groups in Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Prescott, and the East Valley of Maricopa County. While there is no strict membership enrollment process, the state chapter currently counts approximately 11,000 supporters, with about 5,000 participants in the Phoenix local group. These groups regularly coordinate with each other and also partner with the newly formed student-led March for our Lives movement. For example, the organization has coordinated with Arizonans for Gun Safety and the Phoenix March for lives to promote National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 2, 2018. Haber, the Chapter Communications Leader, recognized the efforts of state chapter leader Jessica Manos and Phoenix local branch head Nevine Melikian for contributing to the growth and outreach projects in the organization.
Promoting ideas that will prevent gun violence
In discussing the goals for Moms Demand Action, Haber commented that their major purpose is to promote ideas that will prevent gun violence and to recruit supporters and public servant candidates that share that vision and grow the movement. She emphasized that this is not an Anti-Second Amendment Organization. People, she maintains, have a right to own firearms but they need to do so in a safe, secure, and knowledgeable fashion. With regard to preventing tragic events like Newtown and Parkland, she concedes that there is no “magic” solution to providing more gun safety and many ideas and views need to be considered. Among these ideas are:
- Primarily advocate for gun violence prevention.
- The Be Smart Initiative which reminds families to securely and safely store weapons in the home and elsewhere away from children by “following the steps in the SMART program.” Gun Locks are also distributed to interested parties.
- Enforcing and sponsoring Red Flag Laws so families and law enforcement are “empowered” to block people that may be a threat to themselves and others if they keep a firearm in their possession.
- Increased background checks.
- Close loopholes in the Federal Background Check System that will enable all firearm purchases, in all venues, to be checked in only a few minutes.
- Bans on assault weapons and bump stocks.
- Reasonable limits on which public places guns can be allowed in.
She also asserts that multiple outreach efforts are necessary to accomplish these goals such as increased social media exposure, promoting the Be Smart Initiative, monthly local branch meetings, working with state legislators and paying attention to the legislative schedule and process, and holding public events in towns and cities like those recognizing National Gun Awareness Day the weekend of June 1 to 3 in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Gilbert, and Tucson.
Examples of what occurs at these events are a Silent March “when empty shoes are displayed to symbolically represent the lives taken or impacted by gun violence.” During the National Gun Violence Awareness Day ceremonies at the Arizona Capitol on June 2, 2018, “each pair of shoes was displayed along with the name of the individual impacted and a brief description of their story in order to bring awareness to gun violence and to honor the victims.”
Unfortunately, surges in awareness and support too often occur after another tragic school shooting like the one in Parkland, Florida last February.
Following the tragic events in Parkland, Moms Demand Action was instrumental in helping stop the largely pro-gun State Legislature from moving a bill forward that would have removed the requirement that parents of foster children had to keep their firearms stored. Furthermore, they were able to secure Representative Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to a concealed carry reciprocity proposal that would have “weakened gun safety laws across the country” by enabling travelers to venture from state to state and be held accountable to the least restrictive concealed carry laws in the country.
Moving forward, the organization has five steps this election season grouped under the banner called “Throw Them Out.” These steps include:
- Voters should support and vote for gun violence prevention and only candidates who support that position will be endorsed.
- Follow the money, find out who is taking campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) and not support them.
- Getting supporters to register family, friends, and other fellow citizens that share the goals of the organization to vote.
- Having candidates publicly commit to supporting anti-gun violence issues when in office.
- Enlisting supporters to run for office if no one else, who supports the goals of the organization in their district, has declared their candidacy.
In addition to sponsoring those steps, the organization has three goals to promote in the next legislature. These are:
- Banning bump stocks.
- Implementing red flag laws.
- Disarming domestic abusers.
After the primaries in August, they will announce the names of candidates who have earned the designation “Candidates of Distinction” after having completed the organization questionnaire prior to the primary election and work for those candidates’ elections.
Currently, the supporters of Moms Demand Action are busy growing their numbers and promoting their agenda. Haber said that all are welcome (including men) as long as they favor gun safety. She encourages interested parties to research their website and Facebook page and text number 64433 to find out more local information.
The tragic mass shootings at schools and other public places like Orlando and Las Vegas over the last two decades clearly demonstrate that sensible anti-gun violence programs are needed. While, as Haber indicated, there is no one solution and there is no guarantee that all tragedies can be prevented, our leaders need to try and implement legislation that will make these horrific events rarer and as nonexistent as possible while also respecting a person’s second amendment rights. If our current crop of leaders cannot see past the dogma of the N.R.A. and the common sense practicalities in these reform measures, then they need to find new positions starting in January 2019.