One mom takes aim at gun violence

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Gun violence

Chicago police at the scene of a shooting in July. Two people were shot, one fatally. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)

We can do better.

Better than 82 people shot in one city in 84 hours. Better than a father losing two of his children, a year apart, to gun violence. Better than a shooting per week on school grounds across the country since the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in December 2012.

We have to do better.

"The gun lobby has done a very good job over the past three decades making a vocal minority fear their guns will be taken away," says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.

"We fear our children will be taken away."

I called Watts this week to talk about her organization, which she founded the day after Sandy Hook to agitate for stronger local, state and national gun control laws. Her group partners with Everytown For Gun Safety, a group founded in 2006 by then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 13 other mayors to combat gun violence.

Watts, an Indianapolis mother of five, hopes Moms Demand Action does to gun violence what Mothers Against Drunk Driving did to drunk driving. Which is to say, curb it: Change the culture, change the laws, change the steady stream of tragic, inevitable deaths.

She knows about Chicago. Of course she does. She knows about the daily toll of shooting victims and the divisive, counterproductive finger-pointing. She thinks we can affect change.

"We always hear Illinois has some of the most extreme gun laws in the nation, that if gun laws worked, Chicago's strict laws would make it a safe haven," Watts says. "But the borders around Chicago are invisible. The guns stream in from Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi."

Indeed, 43 percent of the guns seized by Chicago police were originally purchased in other parts of Illinois, and 57 percent came from out of state, according to ThinkProgress.

"That's only going to be stopped by a federal law," Watts says.

Her organization gives politicians a 10-question survey and assigns them a gun sense grade. Her group has a chapter in every state and members spend countless hours pressing legislators for stricter background checks and tighter state and federal laws. They educate business owners (Target, Chipotle, Starbucks) about their rights — namely, that they don't have to allow guns on their private property.

Moms have a voice. She wants it to be heard.

"You can get on social media and tweet your legislators," Watts says. "We have videos on our site showing how to call your legislator. We have a page called fast tweets. You can send an email to all your members of Congress. We have fly-in days to Washington, D.C. You can get involved at the statehouse."

As soon as new members join Moms Demand Action, state chapter leaders contact them to see how they want to get involved. They're also on Facebook.

"Moms have a different voice than any other constituent," Watts says. "Legislators listen to us. They know (women) are a majority of the electorate and we're voting with a very special aim in mind: the protection of our families. We're the de facto caretakers."

And we can do better.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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