Women are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis: three quarters of all healthcare jobs are held by women, and women make up the majority of domestic workers who care for the elderly, children and people with disabilities. Many of these women are also balancing caring for others with keeping their own families healthy and safe. Moms Demand Action volunteer Dr. Sonni Mun is one of those women; after retiring from medicine, she responded to the pandemic by signing up to help out at a hospital in Queens. Across the country, hundreds of Moms Demand Action volunteers are working on the frontlines—more on that here.
Many American women are also on the frontline of America’s gun violence epidemic. Women experience domestic violence at higher rates than men, and domestic violence organizations have seen a surge in calls for help right now as stay-at-home orders force many to quarantine with their abusers. An increase in gun purchases has put women at even greater risk, because when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it’s five times more likely a woman will be killed.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been a champion for women on so many issues, including gun safety and the COVID-19 crisis. She knows addressing America’s gun violence epidemic is urgent, which is why during her presidential campaign, she made it a hallmark of her plan for her first 100 days in office. And the senator has never shied away from bringing up gun safety during debates and on the campaign trail, and Moms Demand Action volunteers have been right there with her. Sen. Klobuchar noted she’s seen our volunteers in their signature red t-shirts everywhere. “I don’t think I’ve gone anywhere around the country where I didn’t see the red shirts and where I didn’t see incredible representatives from Everytown and Moms Demand Action,” Sen. Klobuchar told me. “Literally, every state in the country, smallest towns, biggest towns, and it has made such a difference.”
I sat down with Sen. Klobuchar to talk about how women are leading the way on both the COVID-19 pandemic and the gun violence epidemic.
You can watch my full Demanding Women conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar here:
Here are just some of the many lessons that came out of my conversation with Sen. Klobuchar.
We need more women at every level of government because women can’t make policy if they don’t have a seat at the table.When Sen. Klobuchar was first elected to the Senate, she was one of just 16 female senators. Now, there are 26. “Numbers are important, and they can’t call us a sweet 16 like they did when I got there—we’re now over a quarter of the Senate—but more important is the impact, and the studies have shown that women in the Senate actually work together better, they pass more bills,” she said. In our conversation, Sen. Klobuchar mentioned several amazing women in the Senate who have accomplished great things, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein leading the charge on the assault weapons ban, Sen. Barbara Boxer making huge strides on addressing climate change and Sen. Patty Murray securing $25 billion for testing during the COVID-19 crisis. “There is such a strong history of what we have all done together,” Sen. Klobuchar said. We still have much more work to do when it comes to electing women of color. Of the 127 women in Congress right now, just 47 are women of color, and women of color make up only 25.3 percent of the women state legislators serving nationwide.
Speak strongly and carry a big statistic.
Sen. Klobuchar said that one of the many reasons women make pragmatic, effective leaders is they come to the table with data and facts. “It was so hard early on—and it still is—for women to always be accepted as the leaders they are. So how a lot of women have gotten there is the accountability route,” she explains. We’re no stranger to that reality, since the NRA has been spreading misinformation and fear about gun safety laws for years. We know that the majority of Americans, including gun owners and NRA members, support life-saving laws like background checks on all gun sales. So when the NRA comes calling with its familiar tropes and lies, we’ve got the statistics to back our arguments up. “It’s really important to know the numbers and know the facts,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “No matter how much the White House doesn’t care about facts, most people do.”
There is much more we can do to stop domestic violence.
Sen. Klobuchar has made closing the “boyfriend loophole” one of her biggest priorities, because, as she remembered one law enforcement officer telling her, “bad boyfriends kill and hit just as hard as bad husbands.” That’s why she’s introduced legislation that would block abusive boyfriends from having guns—in the same way abusive spouses are already prohibited. Like us, she’s worried that the pandemic will make women experiencing domestic violence more vulnerable and more guns in American homes will make the problem even deadlier. “I’m a former prosecutor, I know when things are tough economically, things are hard and people are in difficult circumstances, you see increases in domestic violence, and so many of these women have no place to go,” Sen. Klobuchar said during our conversation.
That’s why she and her colleagues helped secure $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and $45 million for programs that provide shelter and other services for victims and survivors of domestic violence in a previous coronavirus relief bill. She said she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski are currently working to secure more funding in the next relief bill.
Life-saving laws begin at the state level.
Sen. Klobuchar supports the same legislation Moms Demand Action fights for: requiring background checks on all gun sales, closing the boyfriend loophole and disarming domestic abusers, and passing a strong red flag law. She pointed out that passing these life-saving laws begins with the states. When I first founded Moms Demand Action, I thought Congress was where this work should begin. After the devastating defeat of the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill in 2013, we came to realize that Congress is actually where this work ends. Sen. Klobuchar talked about the immense progress on gun safety we’ve made on the state level. “As you look at where this country is on these issues, state by state by state, compared to where they were a decade or two ago, we’re seeing real change,” she told me. Moms Demand Action has a win rate of over 90 percent in statehouses, and we’re using our state-level wins as a blueprint for national victories in 2020 and beyond.
Support candidates with courage.
Sen. Klobuchar spoke about the courage of gun violence survivors who put themselves in harm’s way to save others’ lives during a shooting, and how our lawmakers must match their courage.
Our volunteers have proven time and again that when lawmakers support gun safety laws, we have their backs, and when they don’t, we will have their jobs.
In fact, Sen. Klobuchar pointed out, in 2018, many Democrats in unlikely districts “won, in part, because they were willing to be courageous on this issue and they didn’t give into fear, and they were in favor of things like universal background checks and doing something about bump stocks,” she said. That, in turn, led to a gun sense majority in the House. Now, it’s time to replicate that winning strategy in the Senate and the White House. Sen. Klobuchar said even during these times of social distancing, voters can make their voices heard by calling lawmakers’ or candidates’ offices, making small contributions, organizing phone trees and participating in virtual campaign events. And don’t forget to look down-ballot, she advises: “It’s not always just the national race, sometimes it’s the local race or the state legislature. So much of this change is going on on that basis.”
Find common ground, but also fight for what you know is right.
Working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle has always been a big part of our movement. But when lawmakers cater to the NRA rather than their constituents, they need to be called out. “You’ve got to build the coalition, but on something like this, you also just have to push it and stand your ground, because the people are with us on this,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “They’re out of touch, the people who have been siding with the NRA, we know that. And people have just had it.” And we’ll prove this once again in 2020, when we elect gun sense champions up and down the ballot.
The senator also spoke about the need to continue the momentum and energy we’ve built since Donald Trump’s election. While we’re physically separate, we can still be virtually together, and it’s important to remember our advocacy matters and continues. “We have to remember that we’re on this march together,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “And we also have to remember the progress that we’ve made.”
There is so much work to be done to address gun violence and COVID-19, but as a grassroots army of mothers and others, we’re always prepared to keep fighting.
Demanding Women: Quarantine Conversations About Gun Violence
I’ve been hosting conversations with women leaders from around the country. Catch up on the conversations!Watch here
Shannon Watts is a mother of five who, prior to founding Moms Demand Action, was a stay-at-home mom and former communications executive. The day after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Shannon started a Facebook group with the message that all Americans can and should do more to reduce gun violence. The online conversation turned into a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that protect people from gun violence. Moms Demand Action has established a chapter in every state of the country and is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country, with nearly 6 million supporters. In addition to her work with Moms Demand Action, Watts is an active board member of Emerge America, one of the nation’s leading organizations for recruiting and training women to run for office.