An answer to America’s epidemic of school shootings roamed the Kansas state capitol Wednesday in red-sequined tennis shoes.
There were more than 60 women in all, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. And it’s a good bet that their counterparts have been walking the hallways and pounding on the doors of legislators in other states, too.
In Topeka, the women did their work individually and in pairs, beginning hours before the nation was horrified, yet again, by the slaughter of schoolchildren by a deranged gunman.
The women were boarding an elevator to disperse to their hometowns when someone logged onto Twitter and saw the news. They were devastated. For the 17 victims in Florida, their advocacy for changes to America’s gun laws was too late.
All day they’d been a constantly moving throng. They manned their informational table of fliers about proposed legislation to keep guns away from those convicted of domestic violence. They gave out free gun locks. And because it was Valentine’s Day, they passed out clear bags containing a chocolate heart, a red plastic “Moms Demand Action” bracelet and a card with a message to legislators: “Won’t You Be Mine and Support Sensible Gun Laws in Kansas?”
The group was unmistakable in their red T-shirts and sparkly shoes, a nod to Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.
Think this is hokey?
Well, Congress has been largely ineffective in passing any meaningful legislation since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 of 20 young children and six adult staff members. But an army of mothers is coming for those lackadaisical politicians.
The group originated from a Facebook post five years ago by Shannon Watts, an Indianapolis stay-at-home mother with a background in communications who was mortified after the sandy hook shootings. Now chapters can be found in all 50 states, coordinated under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety. And the group points to an impressive rundown of legislation it has helped to pass in states around the nation.
Jo Ella Hoye, a stay-at-home mom and a gun owner (because her husband hunts), is the volunteer leader of one of the six chapters in Kansas.
“Moms are afraid of what’s happening,” said Hoye, of Lenexa.
She made the comment before the news of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School broke, as she shared a personal story.
Just a week before, Hoye had been doing her regular volunteer work at her son’s elementary school when a “code red” was announced — a lockdown.
Along with two teachers, she began the much-practiced protocol, guiding about 40 kindergarteners, including her own child, into a storage room. Hoye entered last and barricaded the door.
Ten minutes of terror ensued for the young mother. She waited, listening for the sound of gunshots.
“I tried my hardest not to look afraid,” she said. “But I was afraid.”
She sensed that it wasn’t a drill.
And it wasn’t. Later it was discovered that a student prank had set off the chain of events.
Hoye posted about it on her Facebook page and quickly began hearing stories from other teachers and parents, recalling how they had ushered children into lockdowns when guns were brought into schools or some other threat occurred.
“I just can’t believe that this is how we want to live,” she said.
Before discounting the impact that Moms Demand Action could have, consider the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And realize that these grassroots networks are increasingly linked with similar national groups like Grandparents Against Gun Violence.
Expect to see some of these mothers eventually run for public office. Nine did in 2017 and won.
They are helping to lead a thousand conversations bubbling up from within the homes of America. People are connecting, often in bipartisan ways, to convince legislators that there is a vast moderate majority, and room to respect the Second Amendment while not succumbing to false, panicked messaging.
By late afternoon Wednesday, as the death toll was being reported out of Florida, Kansas Moms Demand Action posted on its Facebook page: “Today we mourn for Parkland; tomorrow we fight for them.”