Behind every gun law is a mom marching for her children

Behind every gun law is a mom marching for her children
© Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Twenty years ago, I laced up my tennis shoes to greet hundreds of thousands of moms in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to gun violence. A sea of faces met me on the National Mall, while thousands more participated in their own marches nationwide. Little did we know that it would also become the catalyst for 20 years of activism and action on Capitol Hill and across the country.

I started the Million Mom March after watching coverage of a shooting at a day camp in California in August 1999. Since then, we have seen too many other such incidents, where children are hurried out of schools, malls, community centers, and places of worship while a "breaking news" chyron scrolls beneath them, alerting us to yet another mass shooting in the United States of America.

What we said in 2000, that while, “guns may be necessary for hunting, law enforcement, and national security, the proliferation of firearms is out of control" is tragically still true now. When we marched in 2000, we said that 12 kids and teens died each day from gun violence. That year 3,042 children under 20 were killed by guns. Today, approximately eight children and teens under 19 die from gun violence every day, and gun violence is the second highest cause of death for American youth under 18. This problem isn’t solved.

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But while we still have much progress to make as a country. In the last 20 years, women and men who organized or attended the march have worked for change across every community, from asking parents to lock up their guns where our children played to advocating for change in city halls, state capitals, and in the halls of Congress.

The heart of our movement was the belief that engaged citizens can speak to the soul of our government and create change. We’ve seen that borne out.

Our march drew support from all corners of the country, even from the White House. 

But more telling is that multiple women who attended our march in 2000 have brought that spirit of engagement forward and are now sitting members of Congress themselves. Reps. Mary Gay ScanlonMary Gay ScanlonClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Eyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden What factors will shape Big Tech regulation? MORE (D-PA), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (D-Mich.), and Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanEyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing Democratic lawmakers launch 'Mean Girls'-inspired initiative to promote face masks MORE (D-Pa.) have lived out the call to service and activism from our march, bringing that grassroots change to Washington.

They now serve alongside many women who were already members of Congress and marched with us, including Reps. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyPelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.) Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTop House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE (D-N.Y.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyAhead of a coronavirus vaccine, Mexico's drug pricing to have far-reaching impacts on Americans With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (D-Ill), Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroFemale lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity Overnight Health Care: CDC pulls revised guidance on coronavirus | Government watchdog finds supply shortages are harming US response | As virus pummels US, Europe sees its own spike Trump HHS official faces firestorm after attacks on scientists MORE (D-Conn), and of course Senator Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinMeeting Trump Supreme Court pick a bridge too far for some Democrats This week: Senate kicks off Supreme Court fight Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE (D-Calif.). The class of Million Mom Marchers in Congress is strong. 

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Marchers are making a change outside of Congress, too. The Virginia General Assembly attracted national attention this winter as it passed multiple common-sense gun violence prevention laws in the face of inflammatory rhetoric and opposition from a minority of Virginians boosted by national and outside organizations. 

The woman leading the effort to reform Virginia’s gun laws is Eileen Filler-Corn (D), the Commonwealth’s first woman Speaker of the House of Delegates and a Million Mom Marcher. Speaker Filler-Corn (D) has brought the spirit of our march with her since joining the House of Delegates in 2010, with grassroots optimism that played no small part in the historic Virginia election in 2019 that paved the way for the new laws enacted by the General Assembly this year.  

Across the country, we are still proving that we don’t need to hold elected officials to create change, but we do need to hold elected officials accountable.  Back in 2000, I said that we can’t “sit[ting] around our kitchens, crying about gun violence. We have to do something.'' In the 20 years since, Million Mom Marchers have been behind gun safety laws nationwide, such as laws in Texas, making it illegal for those under final protective orders to possess guns, in New Jersey, limiting handgun sales to one a month, and in California, preventing the open carry of handguns, rifles, and shotguns in public places where families gather.

There’s an old adage that behind every man is a great woman. I don’t want to discredit men, many of whom attended the March and have been instrumental in this effort. But, it’s certainly accurate to say that “behind every gun law is a great Million Mom Marcher.”

That’s because after 20 years, countless other marches, and, tragically, millions of shootings, we have shown that when moms put their minds to something, nothing can stop us. 

Our organization stirred a desire for engagement in our country’s direction, one we’ve seen born out in new movements and younger generations. Movements like March for Our Lives, formed after the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., continue to show the power of organizing and making our voices heard.

It is safe to say that the spirit of engagement lit during our march has been seen and felt over the last 20 years and has been passed on to this new generation. 

Moms inspired by the march, their communities, and, yes, their children, are carrying the torch forward for the next 20 years. In 2000, I said we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I’m proud to see that in two decades that work has multiplied, born fruit, and that the children of our marchers and our movement embody that spirit of grassroots, civic engagement that we need to create change for the next 20 years.

Donna Dees Thomases is the founder of the Million Mom March, co-author of “Looking for a Few Good Moms: How One Mom Rallied a Million Others Against the Gun Lobby,” and co-producer/director of Five Awake, a documentary on how five women in Louisiana reformed the state’s domestic violence laws by getting the NRA to stand down.