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Screenshot of a live conversation between Shannon Watts and Elizabeth Warren
Shannon Watts

How to Call Out the NRA and Protect Kids: Six Things I Learned from Sen. Elizabeth Warren

I’ve always admired Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but her tenacity on the campaign trail this year brought that respect to a whole new level. Sen. Warren is the definition of a demanding woman: an indefatigable advocate who isn’t afraid to take on large and morally bankrupt organizations in her fight for our families. She combines compassion with intellect and finds data-driven solutions to the biggest crises facing our nation, from the gun violence epidemic to the coronavirus pandemic.

She’s also never been afraid to stand up to the NRA or call out gun extremists, many of whom have rallied in recent days to try to roll back the public health and safety measures curbing the spread of COVID-19. In fact, Sen. Warren has spent her whole career fighting for the little guy, often against bigger and better-funded lobbyists. What keeps her going is simple: “Our children are counting on us,” she told me. “Remember, there’s a whole lot more of us than there is of them.”

Sen. Warren recently introduced the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act with Rep. Hank Johnson. The comprehensive bill includes a multitude of important gun safety policies, including expanding extreme risk protection orders to 50 states, background checks and domestic violence protections, closing the Charleston Loophole, bolstering gun violence research, and requiring gun owners to securely store their firearms when not in use.

You can watch my full Demanding Women conversation with Senator Elizabeth Warren here:

Here are just some of the many lessons that came out of my conversation with Sen. Warren.

Stories are powerful—share them. 

Sen. Warren and I were joined by Julvonnia McDowell, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and an amazing Moms Demand Action volunteer from Savannah, Georgia. Julvonnia shared how her 14-year old son, JaJuan McDowell, was shot and killed by another teen playing with an unsecured gun on April 7, 2016, during spring break. In honor of her son, Julvonnia has dedicated her life to gun violence prevention so that no other mother has to experience the same grief she’s endured. Sen. Warren thanked her for her advocacy and spoke about the power survivors’ stories have in getting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to take action. “When people tell their stories, I think that’s when we have the wedge in. It’s hard to hear from a loved one and not stop to think, ‘Maybe there is something we in Congress could do to make this better,’” she said. “You truly make a difference when you tell your story and when you insist that your story be heard.”

Champion our children’s safety. 

Making secure storage a requirement of gun ownership is key.

“It goes to this fundamental question of safety. Our homes are supposed to be safe places for our children, for our children’s friends and for our families,” Sen. Warren told me. “You can’t buy a car without brakes, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun without a lock on it.”

We know more Americans are buying guns during the coronavirus pandemic than ever before: 3.7 million background checks were performed in March alone, according to the FBI, the most ever conducted in one month. That surge in sales comes at a time when children are home from school, and we know curious kids try to play with unsecured guns. At least 4.6 million children already live in homes with an unsecured firearm. Everytown and Moms Demand Action have been working tirelessly on that goal for more than five years through our Be SMART campaign. In fact, we just released a new PSA urging Americans to make sure their guns are stored locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition.

Call out extremists for who they are. 

While the NRA likes to claim it’s promoting safe gun ownership, we know that isn’t true, and it’s on us to call their leaders out. “The NRA is not there to promote the safety of our children, the NRA is not there to promote the safety of Americans generally. The NRA is not even there to promote the safety of gun owners,” Sen. Warren told me. “The NRA is there to advance the interests of exactly one group, and that’s gun manufacturers to help boost their profits. We have to remember that’s who the NRA represents. Our job is to get out there and represent people who care about the lives of others, who understand the public health crisis that we are in.” Taking control of the narrative and standing up as a gun sense majority are so important right now.

Senator Warren poses for a photo with five Moms and Students Demand Action volunteers at the Gun Sense Forum.
2019 Iowa Gun Forum Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (photo by Jack Dempsey)

Corruption is at the root of special interests’ power. 

Sen. Warren has made fighting corruption one of the hallmarks of her career, and there’s plenty of corruption when it comes to the gun lobby. We know that 93 percent of Americans—including the 87 percent of gun owners–support laws requiring background checks on all gun sales, and the House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation to do just that last February. And yet that life-saving bill has sat on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk for more than a year because of his refusal to even bring it to a vote.

“In a democracy, when you have 90 percent of people want to see something and you can’t even get a vote, you know something is wrong. And what’s wrong is corruption. The NRA is calling the shots in Washington, the gun industry is calling the shots in Washington,” Sen. Warren said during our conversation. “So how do we stop it? We stop it by calling them out … We have to call them out for what they are, point out that they are the ones obstructing any legislation of any kind, and then remind every politician—and that’s true whether we’re talking about Democrats, Independents or Republicans—there’s a whole lot more of us than there is of them.” Like Sen. Warren, Moms Demand Action has never been afraid to call out the NRA, and we’ll keep doing it until America’s gun violence crisis finally ends.

Fund solutions and empower communities. 

Gun violence is a public health crisis, not a just political one, and addressing it involves community- and public health-based solutions. Since Moms Demand Action was founded in 2012, we have learned to approach America’s gun violence epidemic in this way, and so has Sen. Warren. During our conversation, she pointed out that there are gun violence prevention programs doing important work across the country and “they do it on a shoestring, they’re out there saving lives.” Making sure advocates have the funds they need to do this work is crucial, especially in communities that are under-invested in and under-resourced.

“It means being willing as a nation to put in resources, to say: your community matters and when there is an increased risk of gun violence in your community, then the rest of us, as a nation, are willing to invest in effective anti-violence programs in your community,” she said.

Sen. Warren also spoke about the need to invest directly in states and cities where this work is being done, including through Community Development Block Grants. “There is no one size fits all—different communities have different needs—but the one size that does fit us all is the responsibility we bear to each of our brothers and sisters around this nation and the responsibility we bear to communities of color to give them the support to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in their communities,” she said. With the surge of gun sales during the pandemic, sensible gun legislation and financial support for anti-violence programs should be part of the next COVID-19 relief package, she added, “but it only happens if all of us raise the alarm all around the country with our elected officials.”

Remind lawmakers they work for us. 

Elizabeth Warren takes a selfie with a Students Demand Action volunteer at the Gun Sense Forum.
Everytown for Gun Safety hosts a Presidential Gun Sense Form in Des Monies, IL on Saturday August 10, 2019. Photographer: Christopher Dilts / Everytown

Making our voices heard with our lawmakers is the only way to get the resources we need. It also shows them that even the most powerful lobbying groups are just that: small groups seeking to make the rest of America live by their rules. That includes the armed extremists who have shown up at statehouses recently to protest against social distancing rules. Sen. Warren had a message for lawmakers in those states. “To all the governors who see these rallies, recognize: this is a tiny, tiny fraction of people who have another political agenda,” she said. “Be strong because that’s who we need, that’s what we need in our leaders. Please, be strong on the coronavirus and at the same time, be strong on gun safety. We all want to keep our children strong and healthy, and part of doing that is public health, and that’s true whether we’re talking about viruses or guns. Help us keep our children safe.”

We’ve been building a gun-sense majority in the U.S. for years, and it’s stronger than ever. Gun extremists represent just that—extreme views that the majority of us simply do not hold. For Sen. Warren, it’s about “standing up and reminding our elected officials up and down, whether it’s in Congress, whether it’s in the statehouse, that we want our children to be safe and that means we’re going to fight for effective gun legislation,” she said.

The gun violence prevention movement has always had Sen. Warren in our corner, and we’re proud to be in this fight with her.

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

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