More than 1,000 people, many sporting red T-shirts proclaiming “Moms Demand Action,” filled the Hixson Middle School auditorium and cafeteria for the group’s March 1 monthly meeting.
The national organization was started by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts of Indianapolis in December 2012, following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Becky Morgan is the leader of the Missouri Chapter and a Webster Groves resident.
“She went online to join a group and couldn’t find one because a group didn’t exist, so she decided to start her own with a Facebook page, “ Morgan said. “It was just a small grassroots group and it has expanded exponentially to groups in all 50 states with over four million supporters, which makes us the largest gun violence advocacy organization in the country.”
At Thursday’s night meeting, St. Louis Chapter Lead Jessica Coleman asked how many people were attending for the first time. The majority raised their hands.
“You are taking your first step to ending gun violence in America,” she said to a rousing applause. “These are our kids’ lives we’re talking about and will not back down. We are the first and only true nationwide grassroots movement that is opposing the gun lobby. It’s the kids in Parkland, Fla., and it’s the daily work of the volunteers who work with this organization across the country that is changing the conversation.”
Several speakers addressed the audience.
“The gun expansion bill was passed out of committee last Tuesday,” said Missouri State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, which prompted booing from the audience. “The Democrats worked very hard and were turned down at every corner.”
Morgan, a gun violence survivor, told the story about her father being gunned down in 1991 by a shooter who had purchased an illegal gun.
Kirkwood resident John Mullen was at Kirkwood City Hall 10 years ago when five city officials were killed. The mayor died six months later from his wounds.
Glenda Lay told of her sister, a 22-year-old mother of two boys, who was killed by an automatic weapon as she was driving on Interstate 270.
“As I look around this room tonight, this is what change looks like to me,” Lay said.
Erica Jones said her daughter, a nursing student, was shot as she stood on a sidewalk. Her son witnessed the act while he sat in a car.
“It is an accepted political truth that if we talk about measures that are common sense regulations on guns, we will get voted out of office,” said state Rep. Peter Meredith, D-80th District.
“Republicans and Democrats alike have been terrified to talk anything about sense, not just because the NRA has a lot of dollars and strong lobbyists, but because folks across this state and across the country have become convinced that any talk of sense on guns means we’re trying to take guns out of people’s hands,” Meredith continued.
Coleman encouraged the audience to become involved and educate themselves on the gun issues that are before the legislature, the most pressing being House Bill 1936.
The bill would force colleges and universities to allow people to carry hidden, loaded handguns on campus. It would allow civilians to carry concealed handguns in elementary, middle and high schools, into bars, daycare centers and other locations throughout the state.
The bill would also allow Missourians to carry handguns onto private property even if the owner has posted a “no guns allowed” sign, according to Coleman.
“What this movement is teaching me is that it’s important to have civil discussions with people of opposing viewpoints so that we can learn from each other,” said Kirkwood resident Sue Hooks. “I hope that people who support the gun lobby will listen to Moms Demand Action and others who support civil gun laws.”
Kirkwood resident Liz McCane said she has been furious since Columbine and was traumatized by the shootings in Kirkwood.
“This organization sounds like they have a common sense approach,” she said. “They’re not trying to take away anyone’s guns. They’re giving us the language to talk sensibly with gun owners and gun right supporters and I want to help them.”
“We don’t want to take away anybody’s guns, we just want some common sense gun laws, especially here in Missouri,” said Karen Mitchell of Kirkwood. “We need it. Let’s do it.”
Those interested in learning more about Moms Demand Action can visit momsdemandaction.org/tag/st-louis.