Mothers against gun violence running for office (UPDATE)

Lucia McBath, center, was among the Mothers of the Movement, the mothers who lost sons and daughters to gun violence who addressed the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Now she’s running for the Georgia House of Representatives.

Fighting for legislative action against gun violence always seems like an uphill battle. But at least some activists are going a step further and running for office to try to pass common-sense gun safety laws.

Take Lucia McBath. She lost her son, Jordan Davis, in 2012 when a white driver approached the vehicle Jordan was in at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. The white driver, Michael Dunn, complained that the teenagers’ rap music was too loud. Words were exchanged, and Dunn fired 10 shots into the teens’ car, killing Jordan. It took two trials, but Dunn was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in 2014.

McBath became active in the gun safety advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, eventually joining the staff as a national spokeswoman in charge of outreach to faith communities. Now she’s running for the 37th District of the Georgia House of Representatives in Atlanta, a seat now held by Republican Sam Teasley.

As it turns out, McBath isn’t the only activist against gun violence who is seeking office.

According to a story from ABC News, “a growing number of gun control activists, mostly women, [are] seeking elected office next year, especially at the state and local level.”

The trend is a perhaps a sign of a changing conversation nationwide over gun safety, but is also clearly the result of the work of an increasingly powerful grassroots lobbying group, Moms Demand Action. The organization has encouraged its volunteers to not only petition lawmakers, but run themselves.

Moms Demand Action was founded in 2012 after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children and six adults. Over just the past three years, it has grown from 4,500 active volunteers to nearly 70,000, with chapters in every state.

“For nearly five years, Moms Demand Action volunteers have been working in statehouses to demand that more is done to prevent gun violence,” the group’s founder, Shannon Watts, told ABC News. “I couldn’t be more proud of the volunteers who are now determined to run for their statehouses, school boards and city councils to ensure constituents’ voices are louder than gun lobbyists.”

The ABC News story describes McBath’s journey and that of two other candidates.

Amber Gustafson

Amber Gustafson is a lifelong gun owner and was a Republican until 2012. This year, the mother of three from Ankeny in central Iowa near Des Moines is running in Iowa Senate District 19—as a Democrat. She became active in politics after Sandy Hook and launched her state Senate campaign in October 2017, the day after the Las Vegas gun massacre that killed 58 people. The current incumbent is Republican Jack Whitver.

On her Iowa campaign website, Gustafson also talks about other issues such as health care, technology, education, community safety, and the environment. On her campaign’s Facebook page, she describes her stance on guns as “the radical middle ground.”

Gustafson faces an uphill battle, as the Republican incumbent in her Iowa district has won by big margins in past elections. But if we’ve learned anything from state elections in 2017, it’s that Democrats are outperforming conventional wisdom, winning seats in special elections where victories were unexpected and coming closer in what are normally not close races. Just ask Democrat Patty Schachtner, who this week won an election to be the new state senator in Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District, a district in the western part of the state that the former state senator, a Republican, won in 2016 with 62 percent of the vote.

Nancy de Pastino

Another example is Nancy de Pastino, who is running for the Montana House of Representatives District 91, from Missoula. The current state representative, Democrat Bryce Bennett, is not seeking re-election because of term limits and instead is running for the state Senate.

On her Montana campaign website, de Pastino lists her positions on jobs, the environment, public health, health care, and education.

Both Gustafson and de Pastino became active in Moms Demand Action after the Sandy Hook shooting. Neither was an activist before Sandy Hook. Both were especially affected because they had children who were also in first grade at the time. De Pastino started the first state chapter of Moms Demand Action in Montana and managed the group’s work in 17 other states. Gustafson worked directly with law enforcement and legislators to improve a bipartisan firearms bill in Iowa.

Much of the information on McBath’s website includes her work against gun violence. McBath was featured in the film Armor of Light which told the story of Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical pastor and anti-abortion activist who turned away from guns after interacting with McBath. The film has been shown on PBS and is available on Netflix. Here’s the trailer:

By no means do these three candidates make up a comprehensive list. There are other Democratic women candidates who are gun safety advocates, too. Former Arizona Congress member Gabby Giffords, who was severely wounded when she was shot in the head at a constituent event in 2011, formed a gun safety group with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Their group, now called Giffords: the Courage to Fight Gun Violence, has announced primary endorsements of four women candidates running for Congress whom Giffords described as “champions for gun safety.” They are Ann Kirkpatrick, in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District; Angie Craig, in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District; Susie Lee, in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District; and Veronica Escobar, in Texas’ 16th Congressional District. Giffords’ endorsements also include three other women: Mikie Sherrill, in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District; Stacey Abrams, running for governor in Georgia; and incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, running for re-election in Oregon.

According to the ABC News story, Giffords’ political director, Isabelle James, sees the same interest on gun violence. “I definitely see a huge surge of candidates who want to run on this issue, candidates who want to make it a key part of their primary, who are trying to tell voters that being a gun violence prevention champion is a central issue of their campaign,” James said.

Win or lose, these women join the surge of women candidates running for office in 2018 in what could prove to be not only a blue wave but also a women’s wave. Whatever the outcome, they will move the conversations about guns forward.

UPDATE: McBath has now shifted races: She’s running for Congress. She’s running to be the Democratic nominee for the 6th Congressional District of Georgia.

NEW UPDATE: McBath won a runoff for the Democratic nomination and will face Republican incumbent Karen Handel in November.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Jan. 21, 2018.

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