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Gun control advocates borrow old PR strategies for renewed issues

Gun control advocates are taking a page from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as they plot their strategy forward.

Gun control advocates are taking a page from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as they plot their strategy forward. Case in point: Shannon Watts founded the organization Moms Demand Action. The group is actively working to enact new gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last December. Watts says she modeled the group after MADD.

Karolyn Nunnallee, the former national president of MADD, says the organization has learned several lessons since its founding in 1980 to change the public's perception on drunk driving. She says gun control advocates can learn from those lessons and use them as a foundation in their fight.

"We went with the research," Nunnallee said Thurdsay on Jansing & Co. "What sound research could we use in stopping drunk driving? What can we do to educate the public? And it is about education and letting them know we will not tolerate drunk driving in our country."

Nunnallee's comments come just a day after the state legislature in Missouri sent the governor a bill that would expand gun rights and essentially declare all federal gun regulations in the state null. But even if the governor signs the legislation, there could still be legal hurdles. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has already said the federal government would challenge a similar law passed in Kansas.

MADD initially crossed the issue divide not long after the Newtown shooting when the organization's founder, Candace Lightner, wrote an op-ed that reached out to the families of the victims in the shooting tragedy.

"For those who want to do something about gun violence, change isn't easy. What is needed is a grass-roots movement similar to MADD that encompasses all aspects of society. To be effective, it must include all the stakeholders involved and reach a consensus that will make implementation—whether in laws, increased education or other policy changes—a given."

Nunnallee offered similar advice to families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. "You've got to gain your sense of control. You've got to do something positive with the horrible negative that occurred to you during your life. And you do have to make change. But you've got to focus on what is going to be best for you, what is going to be best for your community and what is going to be best for our nation."

Nunnallee's daughter, Patty, was 10-years-old when she was killed by a drunk driver in 1988. That led Nunnallee to her eventual role as national president of MADD. She says the emotional component is crucial in working to change laws.

"The one thing that MADD did was finally put a face on the statistics, on the numbers," Nunnallee told msnbc's Chris Jansing. "And we chose to fight, be activists, to make changes in our communities, in our states and in our nation. I've been involved in the front lines of this battle for 25 years. It is not easy to change. It is not easy to change perception. As a matter of fact, when I first started in MADD the term 'designated driver' had not even been rolled out. And now everyone hears the term 'designated driver.'"