My friend and I, two childless gay guys, packed into a huge meeting room at a Methodist church in Ypsilanti, Michigan, along with nearly two hundred others — mostly women, and presumably, mostly moms — for our first Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America meeting. I’d been looking forward to this meeting for two weeks, after searching for local Mom’s Demand chapters in the hours after hearing about the Parkland, Florida shooting. I needed to get off the sidelines. Tweeting my sadness and outrage no longer sufficed.
To be clear, I’m no fan of guns. My parents were shot to death when I was fourteen years old, and though it seems likely my aversion to firearms might have kicked in then, I think I was actually born with it. I don’t remember ever playing with toy guns or pretending to shoot people when I was a kid. I’ve never liked gunfights in movies, shoot-em-up video games, or had even the slightest interest in hunting. My good friend took me to a shooting range in my twenties to try his handgun, and I hated everything about the experience. Where he felt a sense of power and release in shooting his gun, I just felt confused and uncomfortable. So, yes, I come into the gun debate with bias, but with openness, too. I certainly don’t want to take everyone’s guns away.
I’ve been following Moms Demand Action—in an uncommitted sort of way—for more than a year now on social media, sometimes liking and retweeting the messages of its founder, Shannon Watts. In the five years since its creation, the grass roots organization has made huge strides in its mission to end the epidemic of gun violence. I believe in the work they’re doing, and I’m grateful for the unrelenting passion and persistence with which they do it.
I’d been seeing, via Twitter posts and pictures, how much larger the meetings have gotten since Parkland. All across the country, monthly gatherings that typically attracted 20–30 members had grown into 200–300 person affairs. Our gathering was no different, and the excitement of the meeting’s leaders to see such a massive turnout kept me entertained and hopeful throughout the night. It feels like, at last, we have reached a tipping point around common sense gun legislation in this country. At last, thousands upon thousands of people, like me, have had it with their positions on the sidelines and are joining Moms Demand and other gun sense organizations to get to work creating change.
What struck me most about the meeting, however, wasn’t the energy for change, or the palpable “enough is enough” vibe in the room. I’d planned on that. It was the tone, from each of the leaders and speakers, that surprised me most. I expected fiery, anti-gun rhetoric, and instead listened to educated and respectful voices outline a “Be Smart” campaign that focused on responsible gun storage, suicide warning signs for teens, and talking to your children about guns, among other subjects. One of the meeting’s leaders took time to make the clear and important distinction between NRA members—the great majority of whom are responsible, law-abiding folks who also support common sense gun laws—and the NRA leadership, whose extremist policies have often contributed to, rather than deterred, more gun violence.
One of the speakers, a tactical expert, had been a proud member of the NRA for almost thirty years before discontinuing his membership after his close friend killed herself with a firearm. That marked the turning point for him to put his energies toward curbing gun violence rather than defending the gun lobby. He implored the crowd not to be judgmental and condescending when speaking with legislators and gun owners. “Share what’s in your heart,” he repeated a few times. And there was a lot of heart in that room—in the words and energy of each of the speakers, in the nervous excitement of all the first-timers, and in the several local politicians who showed up to make clear their support for common sense gun laws and to energize the crowd to stay active and make their voices heard.
This organization has been making itself heard for years now and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Indeed, things seem to be ramping up. With the mid-term elections coming, and with the Parkland students energizing the youth (and the country) to make noise for gun sense legislation, Moms Demand has instituted #ThrowThemOut, “an action plan to kick out lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby.” At last. I can’t tell if the tide has turned, but it’s most definitely turning, and I’m excited to be swimming in this sea of new possibility around firearm legislation.
On the Moms Demand website, the group states that it “supports the 2nd Amendment, but we believe common-sense solutions can help decrease the escalating epidemic of gun violence that kills too many of our children and loved ones every day. Whether the gun violence happens in urban Chicago, suburban Virginia, or rural Texas, we must act now on new and stronger gun laws and policies to protect our children.” I believe that’s an incredibly reasonable position to take.
Every single day, 96 Americans are shot and killed by guns. Ninety-six human beings. Every day. What a tragic and overwhelming and unnecessary reality. I’m hopeful, though, because every day, thousands of energized gun sense voters are joining the ranks of Moms Demand to ensure the number of gun deaths continues to decrease. It’s taken too long, for sure, and we’re still nowhere near where we need to be, but through the hard work of Moms Demand Action, I can foresee the end of the gun violence epidemic. At last. And I know I’m not alone.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by and powerless in the face of all the gun violence in our country, Text ACT to 64433 to join Moms Demand. Power lives in action.
And if you’re looking for some hope, give this short video a watch.