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Best and Brightest: Shannon Watts

So, this week we get a piece of news which has no doubt brought joy to the hearts of Gun-nut Nation and sorrow to the hearts of advocates on the gun-control side. I‘m talking about the announcement by Shannon Watts that she’s hanging the whole thing up.

That’s right. The woman who founded and built the most important and worthwhile grass-roots effort to reduce gun violence has decided, at age 50, to take a break.

Knowing the way Shannon’s been running around the country for the past ten years, frankly, I’m both surprised and awestruck that she lasted this long. And don’t quote me, okay? But we haven’t heard the last word we’re ever going to hear out of Shannon Watts.

Where did organizational efforts aimed (pardon the pun) at reducing gun violence stand before Shannon started beating her organizational drums? There was no effort, or at least no effort which created any sustained public dialog at all.

Maybe there was a little group talking about gun control over here, maybe another little group holding a small, monthly meeting over there. The gun-control groups based in D.C. had really done next to nothing since the last two gun laws had been passed in 1994. And neither of those laws did anything to stop or prevent the kid in Newtown from going into the family gun safe, taking out the AR-15, and then using the gun to mow down 20 first-graders and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Ten years later, a kid around the same age as the Sandy Hook shooter walked into the elementary school in Uvalde, TX with the same kind of gun and quickly killed 19 students and 2 teachers, along with wounding 17 more. The Sandy Hook shooter first shot and killed his mother before going on his rampage across town. The Uvalde shooter tried to kill his grandmother but somehow, she survived a bullet in her head.

Now if I were Shannon Watts and had been devoting every day of my life to running around the United States trying to make some degree of sense and accountability out of these two events, I’d probably want to quit the whole effort as well. And by the way, when we look at gun violence numbers since 2014, only two states – Connecticut and New Jersey – have lower gun violence rates today. Since 2020, the last year for which we have this heart-sickening data, the national rate of intentional, fatal gun injuries – homicide and suicide – has only increased by 30 percent.

All of that being said, I hope that Shannon doesn’t walk away from her efforts of the past ten years thinking that she has failed. Au contraire – her work needs to be understood in one way and one way only, i.e., as an enormous success.

Why do I say that? Here’s why.

From the very beginning of her efforts, Shannon focused her messaging on Americans who legally own guns. And she went further and focused her efforts on women – mothers – who live in homes where legal guns are found.

Why did she adopt this strategy? Because paramount in her mind was the necessity to create a dialog and a conversation about the risk of guns, particularly the dangers represented to families with children living in homes with guns.

Did Shannon want better and stronger gun-control laws? Sure she did, but legal responses to gun violence was always a secondary concern. First and most important was changing the culture surrounding the ownership of guns.

And you can’t evaluate that effort simply by putting up increased gun science numbers and then shaking your head, because of the 44,286 Americans who died from intentional gun injuries in 2020, at least half were shot by shooters who used illegal guns, and most of the unfortunate victims who killed themselves with a legally-owned gun would have found some other way to end their lives if a gun hadn’t been around.

My point is that if you do a Google search for how often the phrase ‘gun violence’ appears in common, everyday parlance, you’ll find that, with the rare exception of a few days after a mass shooting like Columbine, today the term appears ten times more frequently than it appeared before Shannon and her ladies started shouting it out after Sandy Hook.

Even Alex Jones started using the term ‘gun violence’ following Sandy Hook, even if he used it to pretend that the gun violence at Newtown never occurred.

Want to know who was the American that raised the issue of violence in American life before Shannon started raising the issue in 2013? It was Dr. Martin Luther King, and as far as I’m concerned someone in Congress should nominate Shannon for the Nobel Peace Prize.

You would think that for all the money Mayor Mike has dumped into certain Congressional campaigns, that he could call up one of the beneficiaries of his political largesse and drop a hint – hint, hint.

Thank you Shannon for what you have done.

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