During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, mulling around at various rallies were Trump-supporting men with guns holstered at their hips or at their thighs, proudly talking about their constitutional right to bear arms. Guns are also on the mind of a different, but very visible contingent at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia: Clinton-backing women in bright red t-shirts that read: Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense in America.
They are one of several groups of mothers who are taking a vocal stance against gun violence during the presidential election, using the power of a mother’s words to convince voters and lawmakers to pass more restrictive gun laws. They hope to emulate the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the controversial group that pushed the passage of more than 2,000 different laws and regulations to punish drunk driving or underage drinking.
Mary Ann Nord got involved with Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense in America right when it was founded, after the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 young children in 2012. Her own kids were the age of the victims. “If it was Ebola or Zika would be killing 30,000 people a year, we’d be doing something about it,” she told Quartz at an anti-gun violence rally in Philadelphia’s Logan Circle on July 26.
Nord acknowledged the steep road ahead of the group. “The biggest challenge that we face that MADD didn’t is the power of the NRA [National Rifle Association] lobby,” she said. To boost their own influence, the group merged with media mogul and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety in 2013. In addition to advocacy and lobbying for closing background check loopholes, the organization provides outreach to survivors.
Nord, who is white, was standing among members of another group fighting for the same cause: Mothers in Charge, a Philadelphia-based association of women whose children were killed by gun violence. “I was horrified by [Sandy Hook], I was moved to action. But I ended up feeling a little guilty because I realized that I got involved because of something I could relate to, because I have kids that age, but these women are living this day in and day out,” she said, pointing to her companions, mostly women of color.
One member of Mothers in Charge is Stephanie Mobley, whose son was shot and killed in 2007 by a 16-year-old. She also compared the search for solutions to gun violence to the movement around drunk driving. “Why can’t we do it the same way?” she said. But Mobley, who hails from the low-income neighborhood of north Philadelphia, also emphasized that it’s important to get the young people who are “angry” and “hurting” jobs and a college education. She believes that Hillary Clinton will both ensure better gun control laws and help with providing the younger generation with a brighter future.
During the RNC in Cleveland, which has one of the highest gun homicides rates in the country, gun violence was on the margins. In Philadelphia, where shootings happen daily and continued into the convention week, it is at center stage. The rally in Logan Circle included appearances by a number of Democratic politicians: former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in 2011 and became the public face of the fight for gun control, Representative John Lewis, who led the House sit-in demanding action on gun violence in late June, Senators Chris Murphy and Chris Coons. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell asked the group to become “single issue voters” just like those whose main agenda is to expand their gun rights and defend the Second Amendment.
But the most powerful words came from Mothers in Charge, who took the stage together, some wearing t-shirts bearing the images of their slain children, some clutching their graduation pictures. A representative of the group from San Francisco had not one, but two sons fall victim to gun violence. Stirring the crowd, she said: “I’m tired of going to funerals, I want to go to graduations.”
On Tuesday, one of the prime-time speaking slots at the DNC was awarded to another group of moms: Mothers of the Movement, whose children’s high profile deaths – either as a result of gun violence or police brutality – helped inspire Black Lives Matter. They became important spokespeople for the Clinton campaign, as a tough stance on guns became Clinton’s primary rallying call.
The power of motherhood is an important theme of the Democratic convention. Michelle Obama spoke about being a mother during her now iconic speech on the convention’s opening night. She portrayed the presidency as parenting the nation, and emphasized that the only person she knows who could take on this responsibility is another mother she knows — Hillary Clinton.