The Parkland mass shooting in February not only invigorated teen activists, but it reinvigorated a national movement started by moms—a movement that now includes more than 2,000 volunteers throughout Maine.
“Most people get involved because of the headlines and a feeling that things are out of control,” says Kathleen McFadden of Kittery, a full-time volunteer for the Maine groups of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Ninety-three Americans are killed every day by gun violence.”
The day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, Shannon Watts of Indiana started a Facebook page called One Million Moms for Gun Control. A grassroots group called Moms Demand Action (MDA) sprang up, and within a year there were 1.3 million members from chapters in all 50 states.
“She started an online page that sort of woke up the connected consciousness of people wondering ‘What can I do?’” McFadden says. “It started out as a mom’s group, modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, but we are now mothers, brothers and others. Anyone who has an issue with the prevalence of gun violence is invited to join us.”
After Question 3, which would have required background checks for all gun sales in Maine, was narrowly defeated in November 2016, membership in MDA-Maine grew—only to swell again after Parkland initiated a national uprising of high school students.
The Cumberland County group draws volunteers from Portland, South Portland, Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Brunswick and Bath and has met monthly for two years.
“After Parkland, I was tired of feeling helpless and hopeless,” says Elizabeth Emery of Kennebunk. “My outrage needed a place to go, a place where I could do something.”
“When I get mad and scared at the same time, I get moved to action,” says Heather McLaughlin, a fourth-grade teacher at Sea Road School in Kennebunk and one of the four mothers founding the York County chapter. “We each bring different strengths that I didn’t even know we possessed,” McLaughlin says, describing herself as the “the loudest”—just what’s needed at a rally. Elizabeth Emery is a whiz with statistics and policy research. Janice Vance knows how to lobby legislators. And super-organized Christine Walsh-Okwousa is “the glue” that holds it all together.
“I’m big about emailing legislators when there’s a subject I feel strongly about,” Vance says. “If we don’t tell legislators how we feel, how will they know? And it’s something anybody can do and all us should be doing.”
Though the York County group is new, MDA has already made significant strides in Maine. The Bangor group offers free trigger locks and is preparing to offer Be Smart for Kids gun safety education in the Brewer schools.
“We reinforce for medical providers that gun safety needs to be a priority in health education because gun violence is a national public epidemic,” says Josie Ellis, a mother, grandmother and registered nurse who founded the Bangor area chapter in November 2017. “The big (shootings) make the news, but this year there were 19 school shootings.”
Attendance at Bangor group meetings grew from 10 to 103 people in four months, partly because getting involved is as easy as showing up for a meeting. Volunteers lobby legislators, plan rallies, train to become gun safety educators, distribute safety locks and ask gun owners to consider statistics about domestic violence and teen suicide as related to gun access. Members are careful to state that they’re not opposed to the Second Amendment but against gun violence.
“If you meet someone who is a gun owner or a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, you need to look for common ground and find solutions that are agreeable to most everyone,” Vance says, mentioning background checks as an example.
“Any responsible gun owner should not have a problem with legislation that keeps our kids safe and our nation safe,” Emery says.
MDA volunteers can just drop in on a rally—or, like some of these organizers, throw themselves into statistics and all the nitty gritty of legislative efforts across the country.
“We demand action of our legislators, but we also demand action of ourselves, every day,” McFadden says. “We provide opportunities for everyone to get involved and move the ball forward. We realize it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon to change the culture. It’s a long-term cultural shift.”
National Gun Violence Awareness
events are happening throughout Maine on June 2. For more information on Moms Demand Action: momsdemandaction.org
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and mother from Scarborough.