Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
On March 1, 2018, two weeks and one day after the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, more than 1,000 people filled the Hixson Middle School auditorium and cafeteria in Webster Groves, Missouri, making it the largest Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America meeting in the country.
Becky Jaynes Morgan, Missouri Chapter Leader and Webster Groves resident, says the organization was started by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts in Indianapolis in December 2012 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“She went online to join a group and couldn’t find one because such a group didn’t exist, so she decided to start her own with a Facebook page,” Becky says. “It was just a small grassroots group, and it has expanded exponentially to groups in all 50 states with more than 4 million supporters, which makes us the largest gun violence advocacy organization in the country.”
Becky says two months after the Sandy Hook shooting, a group of moms, the beginning of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, gathered at Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis, and that was how she became involved in starting the St. Louis group.
“At the Hixson meeting, traffic was backed off the highway like Field of Dreams,” she says. “’If you build it, they will come,’ and it felt like after all of our work for all these years, we finally had something in place.
“We had 388 people at our first Advocacy Day at the State Capitol in Jefferson City six days after Parkland,” she says. “Everyone was wearing their ‘Moms Demand Action’ red shirts.”
Last Feb. 19, more than 400 Moms Demand Action members attended the second Advocacy Day to talk to legislators about keeping guns away from domestic abusers.
In addition, Moms volunteers from around the state have been going to the Capitol twice a month to share information with legislators on ways to prevent gun deaths.
Having Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America organized and active made the difference in the responses between the Parkland and Sandy Hook shootings.
“When Sandy Hook happened, there was no place to go, but after Parkland, there were boots on the ground, and there were people working on this issue with whom you could talk face to face,” Becky says. “The other thing was the age of the students.
“In Sandy Hook, we were talking about kindergartners and first graders, but in Parkland, it was high school students who were able to speak out as young adults that this is not right, that we had to live through this and we’re not going to put up with it anymore.”
Christine Hohenberger Novalis, St. Louis Chapter Lead, says that in the six years since Sandy Hook, the landscape of social media has changed.
“We got our network talking about it and how people wanted to do something,” she says. “We were ready, and we had that infrastructure ready.”
Before the Stoneman Douglas shooting, there were seven Moms Demand Action groups in Missouri. Now there are 18.
“We are seeing a shift since Advocacy Day in the way that the legislatures are embracing Moms Demand Action, so they know that we are a bipartisan organization in Missouri and that we are not trying to take their guns but trying to find common ground to talk about this issue and keep our families safe.
“That’s what I’ve seen continue to shift as I’ve had more conversations with people,” she says.
Last year, a bill to allow guns in bars, college campuses, amusement parks, casinos, libraries, daycares, government facilities and daycares was voted out of committee and onto the house floor in Jefferson City but got no further.
The fight is far from over. Becky says there are still bills pending.
“Our strategy is to keep them from being voted out of committee and to keep writing letters and calling our legislators,” she says.