Why I Made Gun Violence Prevention the Fight of my Life


The day after the Sandy Hook School shooting, I created a Facebook page in my kitchen to start a conversation about how women should come together to stop gun violence. Seven years later, I’m proud to be the general in an army of nearly six million supporters, including hundreds of thousands of mothers (and others!) who are working every day to defeat the gun lobby and its deadly agenda one bill at a time.

How did I get here? It’s a question I often ask myself as someone who feared public speaking and left a career in corporate America to be a stay-at-home mom of five. Since making gun violence prevention the fight of my life, I’ve spent much of my life on the road. My family has received threats of death and sexual violence. I’ve been vilified and defamed on social media. But I’ve never regretted a single second of being an activist because I believe women will defeat the gun lobby’s agenda and loosen its stranglehold on our democracy.

But on December 14, 2012, the day that for so many of us mothers is still so visceral seven years later, I wasn’t an activist. As I folded my family’s laundry, an image flashed across the TV screen that changed my life. I watched in horror as little children clasped each other’s shoulders, squeezed their eyes shut and fled their school. Twenty-six of their classmates and educators were dead.

My shock and horror quickly transformed into anger. How could we ask our children to live like this? How could we stand by and let our children die like this? I opened my laptop and created the Facebook group that would become Moms Demand Action. I had only 75 Facebook friends at the time.

I quickly realized the image of those children had been seared into the minds of millions of mothers. Sandy Hook had woken up white, suburban moms like me, who had the privilege of never before worrying about losing their children to gun violence. It’s a fear many mothers of color live with every day—black Americans are 10 times as likely as their white peers to die by gun homicide, and firearms are the leading cause of death for black children and teens.

Mothers and others from all walks of life poured into that Facebook group asking what they could do to help. In our visceral, fundamental fear of losing our children, we had discovered a power we had never imagined. Nothing will stop a mother from protecting her child, and so we quickly became the gun lobby’s worst nightmare, the yin to its extremist, gun-toting yang.

Seven years later, Moms Demand Action is not only the largest gun violence prevention organization in the nation but one of the largest grassroots movements, period.

Our volunteers show up in statehouses across the country day after day to help change America’s gun laws. In 2019 alone, lawmakers in 18 red, blue and purple states and the District of Columbia passed common-sense gun safety legislation. Since Sandy Hook, we’ve helped bring the total number of states requiring a background check on all gun sales to 21. We’ve passed red flag laws that empower families and police to help people in crisis in 17 states and the District of Columbia. And last year alone, we helped defeat nearly 270 gun lobby-backed bills, leading to our fifth straight year of stopping the NRA and its allies more than 90 percent of the time.

We’ve marched in the streets; lent our woman-power to campaigns, knocking on doors, making phone calls and rallying for gun sense champions; and launched successful “momcots” to convince some of America’s biggest retailers to prohibit open carry in their stores. Thanks in part to our advocacy, more than 220 business leaders from some of America’s leading companies urged the Senate to act on gun safety legislation. We helped flip the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and we’ve successfully flipped state legislatures like Virginia’s to be gun sense majorities. And Moms Demand Action volunteers have even run for office themselves—and won.

We’ve already made gun violence prevention a defining issue of the 2020 presidential campaign. We’ve turned an A-rating from the NRA into a scarlet letter, with presidential hopefuls now vying for the Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate distinction. Most of all, we’ve turned our anger and fear into action. We’ve committed ourselves to being part of the solution. We’ve made this the fight of our lives, and shown we will never give up. Text READY to 644-33 to join our army and make a difference.

This essay was featured in the January 19th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the author of Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World. She is a mother of five.

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