The gun lobby’s nightmare is called Shannon Watts

“Americans, and especially American women, will vote in the next election with two things in mind: guns and abortion,” insists Shannon Watts, the most famous activist against gun violence in the United States.

Passing through Washington, the elegant fifties, accustomed to traveling under a false identity as she is hated by an ultra-radical fringe of the country, receives AFP journalists in her hotel room. She has 45 minutes between an Instagram Live and lunch with Hillary Clinton and other women who matter.

“We are traumatized”

Not a hesitation in the voice of this mother of five, who is said to have nerves of steel. The relentless repetition of killings and shootings would demoralize even the most committed, but not her. Immersed in this fight for more than ten years, Shannon Watts even promises that her camp is “winning”. On Saturday, a man with an assault rifle killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall. “We are not desensitized. We are traumatized,” tweeted the “anti-gun” pasionaria.

“Americans want to end gun violence,” she said. The Republicans, great defenders of the right to bear arms, are also “worried about their children at school”. This “fear” pushed her to found her association, Moms Demand Action (“Mothers demand action”). On December 14, 2012, an unbalanced man opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 26 people, including 20 children aged 6 and 7. That evening, Shannon Watts goes to bed “devastated”, “in tears”. But also “full of rage”, with the conviction that she must “do something”.

The next day, she begins her search. She finds a few associations, all managed by men. However, she dreams of “an army of women who are not afraid of anything”. So she created it: part of a mini Facebook group, Moms Demand Action is today a powerful organization anchored in the 50 American states, which claims 10 million sympathizers. Its development benefited from massive financial support from billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Red t-shirts

The red T-shirts of their members have become familiar presences at demonstrations or in front of the capitols, where many elected officials have been able to check their influence at the ballot box. Perfectly mastering social networks, Shannon Watts highlights 500 local and national legislative successes, in particular to counter the influence of the first arms lobby, the National Rifle Association. Of course, with a conservative Supreme Court, legal setbacks also exist, fueling fatalism: even the most tragic weapons-related dramas no longer trigger large demonstrations today in the United States.

But, for her, no gathering will be enough anyway to “change the laws”. You have to go through hard work as an activist, “not really glamorous”, insists the brunette with light eyes. Shannon Watts believes in ambitious future federal actions – so far doomed with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. It would be necessary, according to her, to impose at the national level the verification of the criminal and psychiatric backgrounds of the purchasers of weapons. Or “ban assault rifles”, associated with the killings that mourn America. Democratic President Joe Biden, of the same opinion, has so far failed to do so.


There is, however, one measure that Moms Demand Action does not support: an outright ban on handguns. “There are all kinds of reasons why you might need a gun,” says Shannon Watts. His father owned one, as did many activists in his organization. She recalls that other countries, such as Israel or Switzerland, have “a lot of weapons, but little gun violence”. “These two things are not mutually exclusive. At 52, after ten years leading “Moms Demand Action”, she will hand over this year to a new director, Angela Ferrell-Zabala.

Shannon Watts remains discreet about her future. She just admits that she “does not rule out” getting involved in politics. A sequel seems logical, his commitment having ensured him national notoriety. But he also made her a target, in a country where the attachment to arms is for some visceral. From the first days, she received threats. Heavily armed men were expelled from events where she intervened. She travels with someone responsible for her safety and in particular for identifying “the nearest hospital where to take me, in the event of a shot”, she said. Shannon Watts, however, claims to refuse to be intimidated. “If our children die, we have nothing left to lose”

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