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Shannon Watts: The State of Gun Reform Efforts in 2022

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Shannon Watts: The State of Gun Reform Efforts in 2022

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that advocates for and passes common sense gun laws. We’ve invited her back on the show to check in on the status of gun safety efforts and to learn what they might mean for candidates in the 2022 midterms.

Visit MomsDemandAction.org and Everytown.org to learn more about Shannon and gun safety efforts. You can find these organizations on all social media platforms.

You can also follow Shannon on Twitter at @ShannonRWatts

Ken Harbaugh:

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Shannon Watts:

I live in California, a state with some of the strongest gun laws in the country and also some of the lowest rates of gun violence. And it's intuitive, but unfortunately too many lawmakers aren't following the data. They're following money from gun lobbyists.

Ken Harbaugh:

I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that advocates for and passes common sense gun laws. I interviewed Shannon a couple years ago, and I've invited her back to check in on the status of gun reform efforts and to learn what they might mean for candidates in the 2022 midterms. Shannon, it's great having you back.

Shannon Watts:

Thanks for having me.

Ken Harbaugh:

So give us the quick update. A lot has happened in the last couple years. Safe to say I think, more wins than losses, but where are we going into what is destined to be an incredibly contentious midterm election?

Shannon Watts:

Well, as you said, a lot has happened in the last couple of years, including a global pandemic, and what we're seeing is that gun violence has really become an epidemic within a pandemic. I mean, it is at crisis levels. And that is making voters want candidates who will lead on this issue, who will come up with data-driven solutions that prioritize public safety. They're not interested in the gun lobby solution of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. I mean, that has given us a 25 times higher gun homicide rate than any peer nation. And so, yes, this is a winning political issue for voters, but what we're seeing is Republicans have just passed these horrendous gun laws over the last decade. And of course, the logical outcome of that is rising rates of gun death, of gun violence, of gun crime. And they are actually pointing fingers at Democrats and saying that somehow this is the Democrats fault. And I think it's really important to remember that those policies that Republicans have supported, gun lobby policies, are what's resulting in this horrific increase in violence. And the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, oppose that agenda.

Ken Harbaugh:

Talk to us about this epidemic within the pandemic, as you put it. Because, I mean, the pandemic just had so many associated emotions and traumas with it, but one of the things that a lot of people observed was that mass shootings went away, but overall gun violence increased. It really put the lie to this notion that the responsible gun owner is going to save us from the gun culture of mass shootings and the continuous cycle of gun violence.

Shannon Watts:

Yeah. I think what we saw, what we noticed was that there were fewer public mass shootings, right? In schools and in public places. And yet most mass shootings in this country actually occur in private residences. They're usually domestic violence related. Those continued as did the spike in gun violence across the board. We saw an increase in gun homicides and gun suicides and unintentional shootings and domestic gun violence. It's been a horrific, endless cycle of senseless preventable deaths and injuries.

And so it is really important to remember that data, as we talk about policy. For example, now is the time to invest in community violence intervention programs. When we see city gun violence spiking, these programs are so integral to keeping the peace and to stopping retaliatory gun violence. And yet with state budgets being decimated, they're often the first to be cut. And so our volunteers spend a lot of time protecting that funding, working with partners to unlock that funding from city councils and state governments.

It's also important to keep guns away from domestic abusers. We’ve now closed that loophole in 30 states, but we need to do it at a federal level. It's time talk about stopping gun suicides, particularly among children and teens. I mean, it's just become such a crisis with COVID and suicidal ideation and easy access to guns.

So there's so many things that we should be talking about in terms of policy and investment. Thankfully, we do have an administration that cares about this issue. The Biden-Harris administration has done more than any administration in a generation through executive orders and funding, but as we all know, the only place this issue is polarizing right now in this country is in the U.S. Senate. And they have failed to do their job.

Ken Harbaugh:

You've begun to answer this already, but what do you say to those who argue that, look, there are 400 million guns out there, the horse has left the barn, like we have got to find ways other than regulation. They point to mental health, they point to anything but restricting access to firearms given that we're already a wash in them. Is that a red herring?

Shannon Watts:

It really is. I mean, look, first of all, we know that most of the guns in this country are owned by a small percentage of gun extremists who the NRA has convinced they need an arsenal, right? They need 17 handguns and five AR-15s. So a large portion of the guns in this country in civilian hands are concentrated in a minority of owners.

But that said, there are other peer nations that have high rates of gun ownership, but they also have incredibly strong gun laws and they have very low levels of gun violence. And so this is a crisis, but we also know how to end it. We know, when we look at the states that have strong gun laws, they have common sense, evidence-based gun safety laws, we see fewer rates of gun deaths and gun injuries. We actually just put out a tool, it's called every town's gun law ranking, and you can go to our website and really see for yourself that gun laws do save lives. And so we put all of our grassroots power toward advocating for these laws and to fight every effort to weaken these laws in state legislatures. But I live in California, a state with some of the strongest gun laws in the country and also some of the lowest rates of gun violence. And it's intuitive, but unfortunately too many lawmakers aren't following the data. They're following money from gun lobbyists.

Ken Harbaugh:

Talk about how fear has been weaponized by politicians and by the lobby to stoke the gun rights movement and to, I guess, feed this narrative that without a gun you're unsafe. I mean, you mentioned a majority of guns are held by a minority of the population. It's really pronounced. I think it's something like half of the guns are owned by 3% of Americans. How does fear feed into that? And why is it so much more pronounced now than it was just a decade ago?

Shannon Watts:

Well, fear plays two roles, right? So there's the first thing which you talked about. And that's been the gun lobby's rhetoric forever. This idea that a good guy with a gun is the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun. And I've even heard extremists using data like guns are used defensively millions of times a year. Totally inaccurate. If you look at that data, it's debunked, it's totally untrue. The best guess among actual researchers is that maybe 2000 times to 60,000 times a year, they're used defensively. And yet we're talking about hundreds of thousands of gun deaths and injuries in this country. And so an armed society is not necessarily a polite society. We definitely see that, for example, with road rage, right? The number of incidences of road rage deaths and injuries with guns has more than doubled in the last year. It's creating a situation where people are armed and they want to use their guns. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And that certainly is the case. When you have incredibly lax gun laws, combined with a huge number of guns, that is a logical outcome.

The other way the fear plays into this is that we are seeing, we've been ringing the alarm on this for about a decade, our volunteers have, but the NRA is really stoking chaos and paranoia among the extreme right in order to fundraise, but also to cling to political power. And we're seeing that when armed extremists show up at the state house, at the Capitol, at elected officials homes, even at polling places. And it's this imagined threat to gun rights and freedom that brings all of these extremists and insurrectionists together, it's sort of the glue that binds them.

January six should have been a wake up call, it really should be, on how our weak gun laws combined with these extremist politics lead to devastation. And this has been now endorsed by the RNC as legitimate political discourse. And what we're seeing is really Republicans officially choosing violence and a platform of death.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you have a theory as to how the Second Amendment or a perverse reading of the Second Amendment became a proxy for all other rights? Like the way to protest not being able to get a sandwich during lockdown is by showing up at Subway with an AR-15. I mean, how did the firearm assume that that totemic status as the example of all other rights packed into one?

Shannon Watts:

That is, yea, absolutely the case. And a lot of it is because we have the gun lobby, we have the NRA and many other gun lobbying groups that believe any law whatsoever is an infringement on the Second Amendment, or at least they've convinced their members of that, that they have created this incredibly dangerous extremist platform to spew misinformation, which originally was supposed to be about fundraising but turned into their political platform. And then you combine that with our weak gun loss. Over 40 states allow open carry almost unregulated, mostly of long guns, right? So you can walk down the street with a loaded AR-15 and it's completely legal. And so that combined with the gun lobby's rhetoric, these lax gun laws, again it's the glue that is sort of a central organizing principle of all extremist movements. They all have this in common, right? From anti-government militia groups that show up armed at demonstrations, to the January 6th insurrection. It's this imagined threat to gun rights that brings these groups together. And then also what makes these groups so dangerous.

Ken Harbaugh:

Does the gun lobby's weird appeal to manhood and masculinity have anything to do with this? I find it strange, but I got a lot of veteran buddies who I think it speaks to, this appeal to like, reclaiming one's manhood by buying the biggest gun you can. It's not just about protecting oneself, it's about reestablishing, mostly white males, as dominant. I don't know. Do you pick up on that?

Shannon Watts:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, toxic masculine is certainly a big part of this. And look, all of our peer nations are home to people, men in particular, who are misogynists, who hate women. America is the only country that gives them easy access to arsenals and ammunition. And so, again, I think that this is part of that toxic mix, this idea that a gun makes you more free, or more manly, or more powerful. If you look at the groups that are involved, groups like in the insurrection, but also in the right wing extremist movement, Three Percenters Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloo Boys, misogyny is a central tenant to these organizations.

Ken Harbaugh:

I don't have them in front of me, but I recall some examples of the advertising language imagery that the NRA uses, that gun manufacturers use, that appeals directly to this idea of a threat to manhood. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Shannon Watts:

Oh yeah. Consider Your Man Card Reissued-

Ken Harbaugh:

That's one of them, yeah.

Shannon Watts:

... is one of the more famous ads by a gun manufacturer that was pre-Sandy Hook school shooting. But most gun owners, at least before the pandemic, were white men over the age of 60. And that kind of messaging really resonated. Sadly, we're starting to see that message resonate with younger men who are buying guns. But we also know during the pandemic, tens of millions of guns were sold. And for the first time we were starting to see more gun sales among women and among people of color. This messaging around protecting yourself during the time of chaos is a big seller for gun manufacturers.

Ken Harbaugh:

In my home state, Ohio, gun stores, firearms stores were deemed essential businesses alongside, like drug stores.

Shannon Watts:

Yes.

Ken Harbaugh:

And that is a direct appeal. It's not a response to a dangerous society, it's an invitation to a dangerous society.

Shannon Watts:

Well, and the Trump administration directed the ATF to allow curbside gun sales during the pandemic. And so the whole idea is to make it easier to get guns and to… You know, the gun lobby makes money if the good guys and the bad guys are armed. And anyone can be a bad guy in a time of anger. So they arm the bad guys and then they tell the good guys, you need a gun to protect yourself. I mean, it is pretty obviously a marketing and selling ploy, and yet Americans haven't seen through it, unfortunately. Too many Americans.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, give us an update on the main political engine behind this, the NRA. There are others, but the NRA has been the 600 pound gorilla. What has happened to them since we talked two years ago?

Shannon Watts:

A lot. The NRA was once the most powerful, most wealthy, special interest that ever existed. And today they are certainly hobbled. They are a shell of their former selves in part because of… what we have felt is always that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Let's shine a light on their corruption and what they're doing. And it's not pretty. I mean, they're being investigated by several state entities and even at a federal level. And there are things that could happen to them that really even further weaken them, whether it's dismantling their leadership or their board. And yet, as you mentioned, a lot of their rhetoric, their policy platform has been absorbed by modern day Republicans.

But look, I still want to make it clear that the gun lobby is on the ropes. And we are still winning even with the Senate that has refused to act. We are making serious progress in state houses, and in city councils, and in school boards all across the country. We still have a 90% track record of stopping the NRA year after year, every year, and I'm telling you that was not easy during a pandemic when a lot of our work was virtual, and yet we still have that track record.

Look, I'm very hopeful. And I believe all activism is like drips on a rock. It's a marathon, not a sprint, but it's a race we will win. And I believe, at the end of the day, the gun lobby will be obsolete.

Ken Harbaugh:

Just to be clear when it comes to the challenges the NRA is facing, this isn't persecution. I mean, they are in direct violation of their charter as a nonprofit. Can you talk a little bit about the leadership and Wayne LaPierre and what they have been doing with members' money and some of the outside influences that they have been aligning with?

Shannon Watts:

Yes, absolutely. The NRA has completely done this to themselves. They have not followed the normal protocol of most nonprofits. Everything from tens of thousands of dollars in Italian suits for Wayne Lapierre's personal wardrobe, to private jet travel, to vacation destinations, renting yachts, trying to buy a safe home for Wayne LaPierre in Texas.

Again, this is not how a nonprofit should operate or even can operate legally. TAnd again, that's why they are under investigation on so many fronts. And hemorrhaging dollars that they're spending on legal bills. I mean, the budget has just absolutely been decimated that they used to spend on safety training, and education, and all the things they claim to stand for. They're really just a lobbying organization. And they're also spending a whole lot of money to defend their leadership team. And for good reason, they could be in very big trouble.

Ken Harbaugh:

So that's the good news, the bad news, which you alluded to, is that in spite of the decline of the NRA, their ideology has become even further entrenched in a major American political party. Other groups have picked up the torch. Other movements are as reactionary as ever, when it comes to the Second Amendment. Is the lesson there that the NRA wasn't the center of the problem, that there was some deep cultural rot that we need to address?

Shannon Watts:

Well, I think the gun lobby created the cultural rot, and then like so many other dangerous and bad ideas, unfortunately. Republicans made it part of their policy platform. They have to cater to a base, the base of Donald Trump. It's a base of gun extremists. They have been convinced that Democrats are going to take their guns away, even though that's never happened in all the years that Obama and Biden have been president, even Clinton. It's a base that is organized around this as one of its principles. And it is up to us as activists, as Americans to shake that loose. And that happens all the time in this country. If you look at very prominent Republicans, David Frum, Bill Crystal... S.E. Cupp was a spokeswoman for the NRA. She did an ad called ‘I'm an NRA Mom’. And now all of those people oppose the gun lobby and its agenda. So we are seeing hearts and minds change on this issue as it becomes more and more of a crisis, but it's this minority that's helping write the gun laws in the country.

Ken Harbaugh:

You talked about the legislative wins that the change in those hearts and minds are leading. And Moms Demand Action has been at the forefront of that. And I hear you when you talk about this kind of change being more like a marathon not a sprint, drips on a rock, but gun deaths continue to go up. And in spite of winning 90% of your legislative battles, it doesn't feel like we are a whole lot safer. How do you address that?

Shannon Watts:

Well, right now, we're doing this work city by city and state by state. We are all only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws. And as I mentioned, there were tens of millions of guns sold during the pandemic. On top of that, we now have 21 states that have passed permitless carry. That is a gun lobby priority, and it strips away the need to get a permit to a hidden loaded handgun in public. Which means you're not required to have any training or even a background check. And when we do th e data, when we look at states that have passed permitless carry, what we see are more gun deaths, more gun crime, all of this is intuitive, and yet lawmakers are even ignoring police when they pass these laws. At the same time, 21 states now require a background check on every gun sale. So we're getting to the situation where it's sort of red versus blue states. It creates this perfect Petri dish to look at the country and say, do gun laws work? And you can say, yes, they do. And we need them at a federal level. We've been doing this work, as you mentioned, for a decade, but that's sort of not a long time. A lot, as we know, social justice work takes decades, but we did win the house in 2018. We did flip both chambers in the general assembly in Virginia in 2019. We did win the White House back and the Senate in 2020 and 2021. And we have to also keep that work up at a state level and in city councils and in school boards. And that's how we get to a place like in Colorado, like in Virginia, states that used to not have good gun laws that do now. And those laws are saving lives.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm not convinced that the Petri dish argument holds sway in this country. Because we've just had so much evidence. You only need to look at Canada, but there are other examples. You mentioned Switzerland. High gun ownership rates there, but with tighter controls and training requirements. I mean, we should know better, but the rational argument doesn't seem to matter.

Shannon Watts:

I think you can look at other issues in this country, whether it was big tobacco or the alcohol lobby and drunk driving. I mean, that alone took over a decade to pass laws that held people accountable when they chose to drink and drive and injure someone or kill someone. Lobbies are very powerful. I would argue the gun lobby is one of the most powerful, but it also has these cultural, political, sociological, geographical roots that are very hard to dig up. And in the states where they have passed strong gun laws, they don't want to go back. States like California and Colorado and Virginia and others. They're reaping the benefits of having stronger gun laws. However, I can show you a state like Missouri that used to have very strong gun laws and extremist lawmakers have come in and completely undone those laws. And now they have spiking horrific rates of gun murders, gun suicide. Really what they've done to the state of Missouri is so incredibly tragic, and it has a ripple effect on states around it.

So it is a Petri dish. And look, we can talk about voters and how much power they have. We certainly have an issue with gerrymandering in this country. Sometimes we have a public that doesn't care or is apathetic. And then sometimes we have voters who are misinformed. I would point at Virginia. These white Virginia moms said they wanted to vote for Republicans who would keep their kids safe in their schools and yet these same Republicans are voting with the gun lobby, and in fact are trying to pass a law right now in Virginia that would allow guns in playgrounds. So it is a matter of continuing to educate voters, to show the data, to doing the unglamorous heavy lifting of grassroots activism. And that's why Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action were created.

Ken Harbaugh:

Given how piecemeal the winds sometimes seem, state house by state house, you can be doing everything right in one area and right next door, all of that hard work can be undone because of how easily guns cross borders, right? Is there, and hate to use the term silver bullet, but is there a single approach that you have been looking at that might be able to knit all of this together or, in one stroke, create the kind of accountability that's needed.

Shannon Watts:

There is no single law that will stop all gun violence, unfortunately. When we look at what creates a strong gun safety system, we know that they really need to be undergirded by background checks on all gun sales. We have now, as I said, passed laws that require a background check on all handgun sales in 21 states and Washington, D.C., At the federal level right now, you only have to have a background check and a licensed sale, not an unlicensed sale. So closing that loophole is important.

19 states plus D.C. have passed something called an Extreme Risk Law. And that's a law that allows families or police to petition a judge, get a temporary restraining order to remove guns for a short time from someone who's endangered themselves or others to determine what's the risk. These laws are incredibly effective at stopping mass shootings, domestic gun violence, even suicide. We'd love to have that at a federal level.

We have passed laws in 29 states, in Washington, D.C., that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. There's a loophole in federal law that does not prevent dating partners or stalkers from having easy access to guns. We know these laws save lives.

And then also, there's something called the Charleston Loophole in federal law, which means if a licensed dealer sells a gun and the background check doesn't clear in three business days, that dealer has the right to go ahead and sell the gun. Anyway, it's called the Charleston Loophole because that's how the mass shooter at a Charleston church killed nine black parishioners. He got done that way. He should not have had his gun. He had a complicated criminal history. That's why it took more than three days, but the dealer sold the gun anyway. We've closed that loophole now in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

Another important law is secure storage laws. And I think the horrific school shooting in Michigan has really underscored this fact, right? That parents are making guns accessible in their homes. They're not storing them properly. Most school shooters are students who have a gun because it was unsecured in their home. About 11 states have passed secure storage laws now, or child access prevention laws. They have strengthened their existing laws due to the work of our volunteers. And that is incredible work, I think, that goes on because it really will make a huge difference in the safety of Americans.

And then finally, laws that hold police accountable for shooting, particularly black Americans in this country. We have taken advantage of lawmakers' appetite after some really awful tragedies that have made headlines. We've now helped 13 states pass meaningful police form bills just since 2020.

So look, that all adds up. In the last year, we've passed more than 30 gun safety laws. We've blocked dozens of attempts by the gun lobby to weaken laws. And then over a billion dollars has been allocated to gun violence prevention programs. That's a new record. A lot has been done. I think people are waiting for this cathartic move in Congress. So they sometimes assume this is a losing issue. It's just not.

Ken Harbaugh:

What about legal liability, removing the shield from manufacturers, as in the case of the parents in the Michigan school shooting, holding parents liable, holding gun owners liable, holding those who sell them with any reasonable suspicion that it might be used illegally, liable? Is that an approach that might change the culture of accountability?

Shannon Watts:

Yeah. So what you're talking about is PLCAA. And that is something that was passed by Congress that gave the gun lobby immunity from litigation over their products. Something no other manufacturing industry has. The reason they were able to procure that is because they learned so much from watching other lobbies fail, right? Whether it was the alcohol lobby, or the tobacco lobby. And the way they failed and were weakened was because of lawsuits and litigation, rightly so. But they lobbied hard for this immunity. They got it. And it has protected them. And it kept them from going under financially, particularly in the last few years.

We are starting to work at finding ways around that. I'm really excited about the law we passed in New York last legislative session. That strips that immunity away from them at a state level. We believe we can replicate that in other states across the country. That's, I think, an important lesson we've learned over the years, which is when Congress won't enact, you go to city councils and state houses and you come up with innovative ways to hold the gun industry accountable, to protect people. It really... I think it just shows how important local power is.

Eventually we will get there. Eventually we'll have the right president, the right Congress, the right Supreme Court in place. But in the meantime, we can't just sort of sit on our hands on the sidelines. We have to keep doing this work. And that is a meaningful way to do it.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you ever worry about backlash? Do you ever worry about pushing too hard and seeing that voter backlash, especially in rural areas?

Shannon Watts:

No. This is just such a unique issue where we have so much support. I mean, tell me another issue where about 90% of Americans agree? Including Republicans and Democrats, including gun owners. A background check on all gun sales is common sense, it's widely supported, and yet you have lawmakers doing the bidding of lobbyists. I mean, the gun lobby doesn't support a background check on any gun sale. If they could, they would strip it from licensed gun sales. That's why they're passing permitless carry in states. So I think the more extreme the gun lobby becomes the harder it is for Republicans to defend that position. But I get frustrated because I think sometimes Republicans are better at messaging around this issue than Democrats. I mean, again, the rise in gun deaths and gun crime is due to Republican policy. Full stop. If you look at cities, which is, you know, Republicans will point at specific cities, but they're cities often in states run by Republicans that have something called preemption. Preemption is a law the gun lobby helped pass in over 40 states that prevents localities from passing policies that differ from state law. Right?

I'll give you an example. There was a preemption law in Colorado. And I lived in Boulder. And you could walk up and down the college thoroughfare in that city, which is called Pearl Street with an AR-15, but not a dog. And that's because of preemption. Boulder couldn't pass a policy that was different than state law. So we passed, through the city council, a ban on semiautomatic rifles, on long guns in the city. Pretty common sense when you're in a college town. The NRA and the gun lobby helped challenge that. It was overturned by the state supreme court. So we went in and overturned the preemption law. It was the first state to do that, Colorado last year.

Immediately, Boulder went right back in and they're going to pass the band again. So all of this, it's pretty wonky, but it's important to pay attention to the details because you can get to a place where even in the state you might think is hopeless, right? Maybe you live in the reddest of red states. Once you do the electoral work to put the right lawmakers in place, then you can actually go in and undo that damage.

Ken Harbaugh:

Why do you think the Republican Party is so much better at the messaging on this? Is it because of the wonkishness of the counterarguments?

Shannon Watts:

That's certainly part of it. I think, unfortunately, the Republican party is in a place right now where the truth doesn't matter. So if you're not telling the truth, then you can really say anything. And I do think that, for the most part, Democrats are trying to tell a story based in data and based in truth. And it doesn't appeal to the visceral desire for polarization and extremism and the fear-based rhetoric that the NRA has tested for years and has shown works.

And so that can be an uphill battle, but I do think there are some Democrats who are starting to get it, and who are seeing that if they don't fight this battle in the trenches, and they don't have the right messaging, and they're not telling the right story, then it's going to be successful in having the tables turned on them when they're really fighting for the right policies.

Ken Harbaugh:

So last question, going into this cycle, we have primaries right around the corner, we have redistricting in progress in key states everywhere, what are your goals for 2022? And what are your biggest fears?

Shannon Watts:

Well, first of all, we're going to get involved in this electoral cycle like we do in every electoral cycle. Something I'm really excited about is our new program called Demand a Seat where we've taken something that was happening organically and we've formalized it to help our own volunteers and gun violence survivors run for office and win.

We have two members of Congress right now who are former Moms Demand Action volunteers. We've elected our volunteers to state houses and city councils and school boards all across the country. We're training hundreds of volunteers to run again this next election cycle. And that's something I'm really, really excited about and look forward to seeing the outcome of that.

But also, we want to hold the House and hold the Senate. And we want to make this a priority issue as it has been. But it's also important to remember that state legislatures have just gone back into session. So we also have volunteers who are working on secure storage laws in places like Michigan, obviously, where there was a horrible school shooting due to an unsecured gun recently, in Alaska, in New Jersey, in New Mexico. And all over the country, we're working on these secure storage laws. It really is a fundamental way to save lives.

And then permitless carry. We're stopping these bills that the NRA is trying to pass through state houses all across the country. And it's just really important that people use their voices and their votes to stop permitless carry. If someone is listening to us and they're not involved, I would highly recommend you get involved before permitless carry comes to a state near you.

And then addressing armed extremism, right? Keeping guns out of sensitive places like voting booths, and state houses, and rallies, and marches. It is something we're seeing more and more of, and something that we're working to stop at a hyper-local level.

Ken Harbaugh:

We didn't get to that, but would love for you to riff on it a bit more the intersection of gun culture with the insurrectionist movement with domestic violent extremism writ large, but in particular, the assaults on our democratic norms. I'm thinking of armed poll watchers showing up to supposedly to vote, but really they go to all black neighborhoods and they're there to intimidate. I mean, that is a dangerous nexus.

Shannon Watts:

That's absolutely true. I mean, the lies about the election laid the groundwork for January 6th. The enemy became members of Congress who were simply fulfilling their duty to certify the winner of a free and fair election. And then the gun lobby's decades of anti-government rhetoric, which frankly started when they incited Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma, right? They've been using this anti-government rhetoric for years. They've stepped it up recently. And that sowed the seeds for that chaos and the violence that unfolded that day. And it was this combination of weak gun laws, extremist politics that led that day to death and devastation. It could have been so much worse. But we are seeing this type of extremism ripple across the country. People showing up armed at state houses, and at school boards, and at the homes of elected officials, including one of our own Moms Demand Action volunteers who was recently elected a school board member in Nevada. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, they showed up at her home with guns.

So as we head into what we know will be another contentious election cycle, we have to take the threat seriously. The increasing radicalization of the far right combined with the gun lobby's guns-everywhere agenda is having a severe chilling effect on our politics, on political discourse, and even on free speech.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, we want to end on a high note. We usually try to. Where can listeners go to learn more about what Moms Demand is doing and how they can get involved?

Shannon Watts:

We would love that. And I want to be clear. We're not just moms now. we there's and others. Lots of non-moms and men have joined our ranks over the years. You can text the word ready to 64433. If you're a student and you want to join Students Demand Action, text the word students to 64433. We have a Facebook page, but also a Facebook page for every single state. We have an Instagram page for both organizations. You can also go to our website, momsdemandaction.org and find out more about the organization and how you can get off the sidelines. But this won't stop until every American uses their voice and their vote and demands action from their lawmakers.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, thanks, Shannon, for coming on the show and for your advocacy. I look forward to our next update.

Shannon Watts:

Thanks for having me.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Shannon for joining me.

To learn more about Shannon and her organization, visit momsdemandaction.org, or follow them on Twitter @MomsDemand

You can also follow Shannon on Twitter at @ShannonRWatts

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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