Remembering Sandy Hook—An Interview With Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action

Elke Loss

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We remember Newtown. Four years ago, 20 six and seven year olds were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Six adult staff members were also killed.

Most of us froze. Broken hearted. Stunned. But one mom took action.

Shannon Watts is a mom on a mission. She is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America—an advocacy organization working towards common sense guns laws and education around gun safety and storage. She is the leader of a wide-ranging grassroots movement of moms working together to make the U.S. safer for kids.

Did you know that SEVEN kids under 18 years old are killed everyday by guns?  That is one every three hours. This is nothing short of a public health crisis.

Shannon Watts is a woman of action, and an inspiration to people who question their impact. Impact is collective action. Impact is moms.

Q: Shannon, thank you for being on today. Tell us about the moment you started this movement and how it has grown.

Like so many others in America, I was devastated by the shooting at Sandy Hook School that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six educators, and resolved that day to never again be silent. The very next day, from a laptop on my kitchen counter, I created a Facebook page as a gathering place for moms to have an online conversation about this burgeoning issue and to brainstorm solutions. Within a few hours, I had moms in New York, Chicago, Austin, Missoula, San Francisco—all over the country—joining the page and asking how to start a group where they lived. Within few months, I had learned just how pervasive gun violence was in this country and how our broken gun laws were putting our families and communities at risk. Since then, we’ve grown into the largest grassroots movement of Americans fighting for commonsense gun safety measures as part of Everytown for Gun Safety, with over 3 million supporters and a chapter in every state.

Q: What are the changes you want to see?

First and foremost, an America free from every day gun violence. Right now, 91 Americans are shot and killed every single day, while hundreds of others are injured. We want to feel assured that when we drop our kids off at school or at a playdate, they’re safe. And there are simple, common-sense measures we can take to help save lives.

Take a look at something like criminal background check on all gun sales, which we know is the single most effective way to save lives. Right now, dangerous people – including criminals and domestic abusers – are able to buy guns from unlicensed sellers, including people they meet online and at gun shows, with no background check, no questions asked. Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, eight states have passed or strengthened background check laws, bringing the total number of states with comprehensive laws to 19.

And we would like to see more corporate responsibility on this issue—want to see CEOs stepping up for customer and employee safety by enacting policies that ask customers to leave their firearms at home. We have seen dozens of major national businesses like Starbucks, Target, Chipotle and others take this step as well as many local businesses in major cities across the country.

Finally, we want to see a culture of responsible gun ownership restored in this country. The number of unintentional child shootings is unacceptable. These tragedies are not accidents—they are preventable tragedies. Promoting safe storage and talking to family and friends about guns in the home is critical to keeping our kids safe.

Q: Four years ago you were a stay at home mom—what is a typical day like for you now?

One word describes my life today: busy. It can be a challenge to find balance but, fortunately, I have a very strong support system at home that enables me to be a full-time volunteer for Moms Demand Action while also focusing on my family. Each day can be different – sometimes I’m speaking at a national conference to discuss how Moms can talk to their neighbors about responsible firearm storage through our BeSMART program and others I’m joining a local chapter for an advocacy day at a statehouse to push back against the dangerous gun lobby agenda. Each day brings new challenges – and successes – that bring us closer to keeping our families and communities safe.

Q: You turned heartbreak into action. What advice do you have for our readers who want to make a difference in their communities (about any issue).

When it comes to issues of great importance like this, the most important thing you can do is use your voice. Over the past four years, Moms Demand Action volunteers have really redefined what it means to support gun safety—through partnering with new allies, providing unique volunteer tools and programs that allow people to participate in this work in a way that works for them and creating on-the-ground spaces for people of all walks of live to join the movement.

Online activism is one piece of the puzzle–but we need people to show up at the state house, meet with their lawmakers, come to a community event–there is not just one way to be a gun sense leader in your community.

And a great first step is finding out about the local chapter in your community. Find out more on how to connect at and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

Q: Do you see hope? Where?

Yes, I absolutely see hope. Much like the marriage equality movement, the gun safety movement is about the long game and our grassroots army of volunteers are in this until the end. This past year, gun safety was the silver lining of the 2016 election – ballot initiatives in Nevada, Washington and California resulted in new, life-saving gun safety measures, despite strong opposition from the gun lobby. And we supported candidates up for election who have put gun safety first and ousted those who put the gun lobby over the public safety of their constituents.

And throughout the year, we continued to make progress in state legislatures. Across the country, we defeated gun lobby priority bills that would have forced colleges to allow guns on campus; allow guns on K-12 schools; and dismantle state concealed carry permitting systems that let people carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or training – just to name a few.

We saw the culture of gun safety continue its exponential growth, including corporations like Trader Joe’s, The Fresh Market and Levi Strauss & Co. stand up for gun safety.

There are SO many other examples, but most of all – we saw our movement grow. No longer are Americans sitting on the sidelines, they’re getting involved and working to help keep their communities and families safe.

Q: What is next for Moms Demand Action? What is next for YOU?

We know how to be the David to the National Rifle Association’s Goliath and 2017 will be no different. We’ll be there every step of the way as the counterweight to the NRA, pushing back against the NRA’s “guns everywhere, for anyone, no questions asked” agenda and continue to support common-sense gun legislation that will help save lives.

At the end of the day: lives are on the line. And mothers will be there every step of the way to help make a safer America a reality for all of us. I’m honored to be in this fight next to so many amazing volunteers and the fact that they keep going, is what keeps me going.


About the Author


Elke Govertsen is a entrepreneur and founder of Mamalode. She has been featured in Real Simple, Forbes, Where Women Create, Ad Tech, and listed as one of Origin Magazine's "Top 100 Creatives." She has been a speaker at The Girls Lounge, Adweek, C2Montreal, HATCH, TEDx and (her favorite) in classrooms. She speaks on a variety of topics from entrepreneurship to overcoming obstacles. She loves consulting in the areas of community design, storytelling and brand building. Her special skills include extreme bootstrapping, overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities. Of the many things she has learned by doing Mamalode, her ability to work with absolute chaos/kids/mess just might be the best. She is learning that slowing down creates more impact.

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