When I launched Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, I understood I would encounter opposition from those who took issue with my view – the same held by most gun owners – that firearm safety and responsibility go hand-in-hand with our Second Amendment rights.
I knew that sometimes these debates would get heated. In fact, I’ve always welcomed and embraced debate. That said, I’ve also always vowed to remain civil and to avoid cruel, ad hominem attacks in my work as a gun violence prevention advocate.
Unfortunately, as several recent incidents chronicled in Mother Jones make clear, a number of people on the extreme other side of this debate have shown they have no interest in adhering to a similar pledge.
In recent months, the vitriol coming from the other side has reached new levels of concern.
In one particularly disturbing incident that took place in Indianapolis just after the NRA annual meeting a few weeks ago, a gun owner and member of Moms Demand Action -- who is bound to a wheelchair because of random gun violence -- was spat on at the airport by a gun extremist who recognized her from a TV appearance where she had discussed her experience with gun violence and why she supports common-sense gun laws.
Sadly, incidents like these take place every single day. I am routinely inundated by vicious and personal attacks on social media. I regularly receive death threats by mail and e-mail. Some have even gone so far as to drive by my home address, an apparent attempt at intimidating me into staying silent.
"There has been no response from the NRA leadership to any of these events. They aren't telling their members and allies to cool it — they're staying out of the fight."'
And I’m far from alone. Our members are often threatened with physical and sexual violence and open carry groups have tried to keep our moms from meetings about gun policy issues or to silence them once there. Similar groups have been known to use nude female mannequins as target practice.
If these incidents weren’t so frequent, I wouldn’t be writing this column. There are always fringe members of otherwise law-abiding organizations and advocacy groups. But it’s become increasingly clear that the national gun lobby is enabling this radical behavior by not doing anything to stop it.
In August 2013, gun extremists held an armed rally at a Starbucks in Newtown, Conn., where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting had taken place just months earlier. In June 2013, activists with long guns crashed a gun reform rally in San Antonio, Tex., that included Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, the parents of Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi. And In November 2013, 40 armed activists held an open carry rally outside of Blue Mesa Grill in Dallas, knowing that four members of Moms Demand Action were meeting inside.
There has been no response from the NRA leadership to any of these events. They aren't telling their members and allies to cool it -- they're staying out of the fight. By turning a blind eye, they're allowing these events to continue, and tacitly endorsing this cruel behavior.
"When it comes to protecting our children, our families and our communities from gun violence -- moms will never give up."'
Many of the members of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are gun owners concerned about how the behavior of these gun extremists tarnish the reputation of all responsible gun owners. It runs counter to the spirit of civility that should define the way we engage in important discussions in this country.
Still, we haven’t let these attacks stop us from making progress to end gun violence. In the last two months alone, five states have passed laws that protect victims of domestic violence from the threat of guns.
We’ve also celebrated important victories to keep the places where we take our children out to eat safe from guns. After a group of heavily-armed activists staged a demonstration at a Chipotle in Dallas over the weekend, we launched a petition to ask Chipotle to take action. Hours later, the company asked their customers to leave their guns at home. This follows in the footsteps of Starbucks announcing that guns are no longer welcome in its stores and Jack in the Box announcing it would enforce a prohibition of guns in its stores.
Perhaps our success is what has heightened the extreme attempts to silence us -- but we’ll do no such thing. When it comes to protecting our children, our families and our communities from gun violence -- moms will never give up.
Shannon Watts is the mother of five children and the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety.