Gun safety nonprofits making progress with presence

Nonprofit advocacy organizations that promote anti-gun violence measures report that they’re making progress, with legislators increasingly more likely to consider, support, and even pass more gun safety bills. While their resources may not compare to those of the gun lobbying groups, anti-gun violence proponents’ strategies to empower more advocates seem to be working. 

Melanie Greene, co-leader of the Austin local group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said, “Our volunteers are showing up everywhere. That’s our main tactic – showing up.”

In the wake of mass shootings like those that happened the weekend of August 4, Central Texans often become more vocal about gun violence. Many reach out to organizations like Moms Demand Action or Texas Gun Sense, both with an Austin presence. Greene says those people can include parents, but it can also include people without children, older people, and even gun owners. “There are a lot of gun owners who believe guns should be owned responsibly, too,” Greene said. 

That presence has been most effective at the Texas Capitol. At the most recent Texas legislative session, Moms Demand Action worked alongside other anti-gun violence advocacy nonprofits to prevent a “constitutional carry” bill from moving forward. The bill would have allowed anyone to openly carry a firearm without a permit. Reportedly, a representative from Texas Gun Rights, which advocated for the bill, allegedly tried to intimidate legislators by visiting their homes during session. In fact, Greene says that kind of threatening presence is a tactic pro-gun advocates often use. At meetings of another chapter of Moms Demand Action, she says, a fully-armed man often attends the meeting, just up to the point of what might be considered trespassing. 

“We find that gun extremists tend to know the law pretty well,” she said, “mainly because they try to do everything right up to the edge of what’s legal. For people on the other side, we have to educate them.” Ed Scruggs, board president of the nonprofit Texas Gun Sense, says it’s also been important to educate legislators. “We have fought the constitutional carry bill for many sessions,” he said. “It’s about talking to legislators, too. Educating them. Ten years ago, you couldn’t do that in Texas.” 

Greene says other successes include the governor signing a $250 billion budget bill that included a $1 million public safety campaign to educate gun owners about safer storage. Nearly two-thirds of deaths by gun in the United States are suicides, which gun safety advocates attribute to their ease of access. 

“There is a strong grassroots gun-violence prevention effort in the state,” said Scruggs. “Before they only used to hear from the other side. At least now we show up, and we’re matching them. At least it’s contested now.” Greene agrees. Most volunteer opportunities with either group are in the form of attending sessions and hearings, just so legislators see the presence of the “other side.” 

“The key is to be as present,” said Scruggs, “you don’t have to be as noisy but you need to be more thoughtful and strategic and smart. It’s knowing who to talk to when to talk to them, knowing how the committee system works. And that’s something we’ve gained experience with over time.”

PHOTO: A group from Moms Demand Action at an advocacy day at the Texas Capitol in April, where they were educating legislators about the dangers of arming teachers. Contributed by Moms Demand Action.

NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2019, Austin American-Statesman.

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