When the leaders of the National Rifle Association meet in Indiana on Friday they will come face-to-face with some of their worst enemies: mothers, gun violence survivors and gun safety advocates.
More than 100 members of the grassroots group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America plan to protest outside the NRA’s annual three-day meeting being held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The goal is to try to encourage the NRA’s leadership to join forces with the rest of Americans seeking tougher and more sensible gun laws.
“Their extremism should not go unanswered,” said Shannon Watts, co-founder of Moms Demand Action. “They are not just against background checks... They’re extremists in many ways and we want to make sure people understand that. We want to highlight that.”
Watts is a 43-year-old stay-at-home mother of five from Indiana. She wasn’t an activist until the 2012 shooting of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. One day after the massacre, Watts started the Moms Demand Action Facebook page. Now the 18-month-old nonprofit says it is present in all 50 states and has 150,000 volunteers.
But that's a lot smaller than the NRA, a 143-year old organization with almost 5 million members and lots of cash. It spends roughly $20 million annually on political activities, sometimes unseating elected officials who voted for gun control. Last year, fear of backlash from the NRA caused several pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening the nation’s gun laws to fail in Congress.
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But Moms Demand Action recently did something that could level the playing field, or at least give it the power to test the NRA’s mettle. It recently united with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bipartisan gun control coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to form the new grassroots movement Everytown for Gun Safety. The new movement has 1.5 million supporters, and organizers are working to increase that by a million at the end of this year. Perhaps the greatest equalizer is that Bloomberg, a billionaire, has plans to outspend the NRA this year, with a $50 million commitment.
Watts said the movement isn’t fighting against the Second Amendment, rather it wants common sense laws that protect children and families. “This is just the beginning of an effort to go toe-to-toe with the gun lobby,” Watts said, “and, so far so good.”
The NRA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
At the Indiana NRA event, the mom movement will bring a tactic it says has been successful: using strollers and diaper bags, which members realized were an effective protest tool at the Maryland State House last year, where the group rallied in support of background checks legislation.
“We realized that when we have diaper bags and strollers in the hallways legislators couldn't really get through without talking to us and listening to us,” Watts said. “So we started having those all over the country.”
Strollers and diaper bags will make another appearance in Indianapolis this weekend accompanied by quilts, made from the clothes of gun violence victims.
“The gun lobby has preyed on the emotions of vocal minorities for decades,” Watts said. “They’ve made this vocal minority afraid that their guns are going to be taken away. Well, moms are afraid our children are going to be taken away. That’s the emotion we believe will win at the end of the day.”