If we’re ever going to get serious about gun control in this country, I have a simple suggestion: mobilize women.
As the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving demonstrates, when women put their collective hearts and minds toward something, they get it done.
Men still control Congress, which has done nothing for gun control. Of the 46 senators who recently rejected background checks, all but four were men.
(The four women, by the way, were Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota; Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire; Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska; and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska. Heitkamp, may not have taken any money from the National Rifle Association. But Ayotte reportedly took $9,000; Fischer took $7,950; and Murkowski took $10,058.)
Morever, it’s men who own most of the guns — three times as many as women, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. I called and emailed the NRA to see how many of their members are women and got no response.
Men have also traditionally been more resistant to gun control. Polling data consistently show far greater support for gun control among women than among men. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, for instance, showed that while 65 percent of female respondents favor stricter gun laws, only 44 percent of male respondents did.
To be sure, if men had their own self-interest in mind, they would be leading the charge for gun control, not bucking it. After all, when it comes to gun deaths, “it’s mostly men killing men,” Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me.
For women, living in a home with a gun raises the risk of suicide 4.6 times and the risk of homicide 3.4 times, according to studies cited by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In fact, 73 percent of female murder victims are killed in the home, compared to 45 percent of male murder victims.
In the wake of the Newtown shootings, women do seem to be emboldened.
In January, as Maryland legislators were debating gun control, a bunch of women wielding strollers and babies showed up in the State House hallways to lobby for gun control. Legislators trying to push through found themselves in a “stroller jam,” surrounded by moms, kids and baby paraphernalia.
“The legislators couldn’t get by. They had to talk to us,” Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America told me last week. The strong gun control legislation passed and since then, the group Watts founded the day after the Newtown shootings, has amassed 100,000 members in 40 states and has staged 20 other stroller jams across the country.
Maternal instinct appears to be a motivating factor. Women want stronger gun laws “so they can send their kids to school and know they will come home alive,” says Lindsay Moran, a freelance writer, mother of two and former CIA operative who started a Facebook campaign “Enough is Enough: Responsible Gun Laws Now.”
“There is a collective outrage among moms that these kinds of things happen again and again and we can’t get any meaningful action,” Moran told me. “It’s baffling to me that reasonable people can’t distinguish between the Second Amendment right to bear arms and assault weapons.”
Myra Christopher, an ethicist at the Center for Practical Bioethics, put it this way: “If this situation is ever to change, women must take a stand and begin the process of transforming our culture.”
She’s right. It is about culture change. Change from mindless paranoia about the second amendment to plain common sense. Change from letting the NRA buy Congress to electing people with integrity. Change from the absurd belief that “guns don’t kill people, people do” to the truth: It’s the guns. And it’s women who really get it.