One Million Moms For Gun Control: Origins Of A Movement

How these women, despite facing fierce odds, are coming together to fight gun violence.

January 26, 2013  |  

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It began because Shannon Watts didn’t know what to tell her 12-year-old son about Newtown. The boy had been undone by what he still calls “The Batman Shooting” and left a movie theater sobbing a few days after Aurora, certain the man next to him had a gun. After months of therapy and medication he was just getting his balance back. What would she tell him now, Watts wondered, with 20 children dead in their first-grade classroom?

It began because Amy R. heard the news from Newtown over morning coffee in her North Carolina kitchen, and fought the urge to pull her 8-year-old out of school immediately. The more she read, the more she realized “how ignorant I was that so many guns were out there,” she says. Finally, she wiped her tears and brought her son home from school 30 minutes early. “It’s one of those moments when you just need to hold your child.”

It began because Kim Russell went ahead with her son’s fourth birthday party as planned, two days after Newtown — then had flashbacks about the days after Columbine, when she had gone to dinner with a teacher who said “that could have been at his school,” Russell says. Her dinner date was shot and killed by a 17-year-old mugger with a stolen Glock that night.

These women and others like them — tens of thousands of others, it turns out — are coming together to fight gun violence. They want to be a force for change, they say, like the bipartisan Mothers Against Drunk Driving (and the liberal progressive, the conservative Christian and the new Moms Clean Air Force).

They know they are facing fierce odds: foes with more organization and money, the tendency of Americans to forget about guns between tragedies and a history of other groups that have tried and failed. But they want to become a movement and they think their time is now.


In any tragedy there are two circles of victims. The smaller, more wounded cluster is filled with those who were hurt personally, who lost something they could name, or count, or touch. The second circle, much larger, contains the rest of us. Change begins with the first group but cannot succeed without the second.

The morning after Newtown, Watts woke up angry. “If I don’t do something, I am culpable,” she remembers thinking. She’d worked in corporate communications for 15 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom, and while not a pro with computers, she knew enough to create a Facebook page. She called it “One Million Moms For Gun Control,” and shared the link with her 175 Facebook friends.

Halfway across the country, in Brooklyn, Marcie Bohan, a mother of three who is training to be a social worker, was also on Facebook and had just spontaneously written a note to a friend: “We need to organize a million mamas for gun control.” Not long afterward, she received a reply from an acquaintance in Virginia who was also connected to Watts. “I have a friend who just posted the same idea,” he said. “You two should talk.”

Bohan shared a link to Watts’s page, writing: “Come on Brooklyn. Let’s do this.” Russell, who knew Bohan from a long ago playgroup added a comment to the post. “I’m a victim of gun violence and I have wanted to do something for 13 years,” she wrote.

By the next day, the two were among the five founders of the Brooklyn chapter of One Million Moms For Gun Control — or 1MM4GC — who gathered in Bohan’s kitchen, with Watts attending the meeting via Skype. They created a mission statement: “To reinstitute the assault weapons ban and establish other laws that will limit gun availability and misuse in the United States.” They also sorted through the emails that kept pouring in from around the country offering to form other chapters — in Las Vegas and Boston, Denver and Florida, Northern Virginia and Southern Maine. Now there are more than 70 branches (including a chapter for Aurora, Colo., as well as one each for Grandmothers, Teachers and Dads), and the original page has accumulated more than 40,000 “likes” in its first 40 days.