COVID and Guns, with Shannon Watts
Today, it’s a moms episode! Andy and Zach are joined by Lana, who leads a chat with activist Shannon Watts about how the pandemic is colliding with guns. They talk about gun violence and what can be done to address gun safety under these circumstances. They also talk about the movement of women running for political office. The Slavittt family touches on Andy’s new initiative #opensafely and go over the low, medium and high-risk levels of our favorite summer activities. Andy ends the show with a call to his sister Lesley about her work coordinating the emergency response to COVID 19 in Flint, Michigan.
Find Shannon @shannonrwatts on Twitter and Instagram.
Here are some other important resources from today’s show:
- Read guidelines about how to #opensafely from Andy and 21 other health leaders at www.Open-Safely.US and check out their recent op-ed in USA Today here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/05/20/coronavirus-still-spreading-america-must-open-safely-column/5216824002/
- Read and listen to NPR’s latest guide on how to assess the risk of your favorite summer activities here: https://n.pr/2WY7MPK
- Want to hear more from Shannon? Pick up a copy of her book, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World: https://www.amazon.com/Fight-Like-Mother-Grassroots-Movement/dp/0062892584/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- Learn about Moms Demand Action and how to support their work at https://momsdemandaction.org/ and follow them @momsdemand on Twitter
- Find out more about the work of Everytown for Gun Safety and learn how to get involved here: https://everytown.org/ and @Everytown on Twitter
- Learn how to normalize conversations about gun safety and take action to prevent child gun deaths at https://besmartforkids.org/
- Want to run for office? Know a great candidate? Want to support other women fighting for change? Visit Emerge America at https://emergeamerica.org/ to learn about their work and get involved.
We hope you want to listen to In the Bubble with your family, or talk to them after you listen about what you’ve heard. We want families to be able to discuss this content across the generations, and we are producing it with that in mind. To that end, we’re going to start to offer a discussion prompt based on one central theme from each new episode, broken down with developmentally appropriate age bands to keep the conversation going.
Discussion Prompt: On Bearing Witness to Lives Lost
Andy wonders aloud to Shannon Watts from @momsdemand on today’s episode “I worry that we sit here today and we don’t know how to bear witness to all these lives lost and I’m wondering what lessons you have for us as we think about this ongoing set of tragedies and how we really make it sink in.”
For children under 5: Not appropriate for this age group, in our judgement
For children 5-12: For children at the very top of this age range, you could adapt the 12-18 question below, as you deem appropriate
For youth 12-18: As we think about the tragedies we are enduring because of covid-19, other recent instances of immense loss of life may come to mind. On today’s episode, loss of life from gun violence is discussed, for example. What similarities and differences do you see between the way we as a society are responding to loss of life from covid-19 and the way we respond to loss of life from gun violence?
For the 18+ crowd: As this episode is published, 100,000 people in the U.S. have now lost their lives to covid-19, and yet there has been almost a complete lack of national mourning. Are we desensitized or otherwise numb to the massive loss of life that we are experiencing? What similarities and differences do you see in our national response to this massive loss of life as compared to our national response to lives lost to gun violence?
[00:37] Andy Slavitt: There is nobody that should be rooting against any state or any governor to make a misstep. There will be missteps, but we hope to be able to contain those missteps through some of the smart programs we’re recommended.
[00:48] Andrew Cuomo: And just to be very clear, let me plead your guy’s case for a second — Andy Slavitt and Dr. Mark McClellan, thank you very much for being on tonight. This is an actual plan. They have lists of recommendations for how to reopen and where, and areas that can reopen more safely, and how you should deal with what choices you’ll have to make about what you need to do to keep yourself and your family safe based on where you’re thinking about going. So it’s all in the plan. We’ll put the plan out online, as will they. We thank them for making the case to you tonight.
[01:23] Andy Slavitt: Welcome to In the Bubble, this is Andy Slavitt.
[01:24] Lana Slavitt: And Lana.
[01:25] Zach Slavitt: And Zach.
[01:26] Andy Slavitt: Yes, it’s a family episode. So what you just heard was a clip from the launch of the #OpenSafely campaign, which we’ll talk about in a second. We have a guest-host today. Thanks for joining us. It’s an episode that we’re going to dedicate to some of the joys of summer and to moms. And eventually, of course, Zach’s going to have to go off to college, leaving In the Bubble, maybe even this fall. So I guess we have to audition some new talent.
[01:54] Zach Slavitt: And there’s only a few choices.
[01:55] Lana Slavitt: Yep. There’s only a few choices in the bubble. Excellent name, by the way.
[01:59] Andy Slavitt: Well, I guess we should finally admit that you thought of that name, like most good ideas in the house.
[02:04] Lana Slavitt: So let’s talk about summer, since we’ve just crossed Memorial Day and what’s safe for us to actually do.
[02:09] Andy Slavitt: Americans do love their summer.
[02:13] Lana Slavitt: Especially here in Minnesota. There was this good article published by NPR on summer activities, ranking them from safe to unsafe. So let’s talk about some of the ones that are the safest. A general rule of thumb that one of their experts recommended was thinking about it this way: the more time you spend and the closer in space you are to possibly infected people, the higher your risk. So interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoor places. So that means things like a BYOB backyard barbecue with another household is probably pretty low- to medium-risk, especially if you’re avoiding sharing food, drinks or utensils and you bring your own things there. You know, another activity that’s pretty low-risk is camping with another family, especially if you’re not at a crowded campsite where you’re sharing bathrooms and things with many other people. As long as you’re able to stay socially distant from others, that should be a pretty safe activity for families to take advantage of this summer. Similarly, spending a day at a popular beach or a pool is very low-risk as long as you can stay socially distant. And in fact, water is something that should dilute out the virus. so that makes it a pretty fun activity and safe also, at the same time.
[03:22] Lana Slavitt: Shopping at an outdoor mall, as long as you are wearing a mask when you enter shops and you keep your distance from others, is a pretty low risk activity. Sharing a vacation house with another family, as long as both families have been limiting their exposure to others is another safe summer activity. You just have to be careful to make sure that you’re taking the rules seriously, taking them the same. So those are some ideas for some fun things that families can do this summer that are low-risk. And of course, it’s always safe to exercise outdoors. You know, sports that have less contact, like golf or tennis, are probably better than ones like basketball and football. But we all could use a little fresh air these days.
[03:57] Andy Slavitt: So I think I just got that BYOB, is that bring your own barbecue? That’s funny. I thought it was bring your own beer. Bring your beer to bring your barbecue. Well, I hope everybody does have a fun summer. Now, speaking of fun summer, Zach, not to be accusatory, but we do see images on TV of kids your age — and to be fair, older ones, too — starting to enjoy summer, partying over Memorial Day, maybe not always the safest of ways. How do people your age think about and view these restrictions, safe social distancing, etc.?
[04:38] Zach Slavitt: Well, I think a lot of people are maybe taking it seriously, but you’re not hearing about them or seeing anything about them because they’re at home. They’re not going to be on the news. But there’s definitely a group of people that have been not taking it seriously. And there’s different levels to this. Maybe some people hanging out in small groups, but then there’s also some of those viral videos people have seen on Twitter of people hanging out. Hundreds of people at a beach or in a pool party. And it’s just a lot of people who are sick of staying home and are just starting to come out as the summer starts.
[05:14] Andy Slavitt: So not to have you sell out any of your friends or anything, but how do most of the kids you know feel? You’re 18, I should tell the audience, in case they don’t remember.
[05:23] Zach Slavitt: I think it’s a mix of people who are frustrated. People who don’t care. People who are taking it seriously and people who aren’t, just like there is with anything.
[05:33] Andy Slavitt: And anything that you think can be done, are you particularly worried about it, or do you think it’s summer, there’s slightly lower risk and we should be a little tolerant of that?
[05:42] Zach Slavitt: I think there is going to be people doing it no matter what we do. But you did just put up #OpenSafely this week and maybe that it will work. How did that go?
[05:53] Andy Slavitt: Well, you know, we call it “hashtag open safely” because we’re very hip. But yes, last Wednesday, a group of about 25 other healthcare policy leaders and I put out a new program called #OpenSafely. There’s actually a website. It’s Open-Safely.us. It was co-led by Mark McClellan and myself. Mark is a Republican from the second Bush administration. We work very closely together. It’s a bipartisan group. You can see the letter, it was in USA Today. And it really, I think, starts with what are Americans feeling right now? And goes on to talk about how to stay safe. And the fact that we can open safely, that there is a probably silent majority of people that aren’t out protesting that want us to open, know that we have to live with the virus, that we can’t stay in forever. But we want to do it in a safe and a stepwise way. And we do want to do it in ways or we go forwards and have to go backwards. So there’s a lot of good guidance on there. And we hope that people will encourage their political leaders also to support this type of initiative. All right. So let’s talk about our guest. Let’s introduce Shannon Watts, for those of you who don’t know her.
[07:02] Lana Slavitt: So Shannon is a true model of grassroots leadership. She started Moms Demand Action after Sandy Hook. And it’s now an organization of more than six million people in every state in the country. Moms Demand Action stands for common sense gun safety laws. Shannon is a volunteer, so she doesn’t get paid a penny from this, unlike the NRA folks who make a lot of money. She’s also an author. She wrote a wonderful book called Fight Like a Mother, and she spends her almost nonexistent spare time encouraging women to run for office and promoting voting rights. So she’s just a terrific person. I’m looking forward to talking to her today.
[07:39] Andy Slavitt: She’s amazing. Lana has introduced me to her before. She’s spectacular. I think you’re gonna really enjoy this. So what did guns and the pandemic have to do with each other? I think you’ll see that they actually have quite a bit to do with each other, as you will hear in this conversation. So given how well you know her, why don’t you take the lead on interviewing her?
[07:58] Lana Slavitt: Great. I will. I’m also interested in hearing more about what she thinks about other things going on in the country, because she really has a great pulse on that.
[08:05] Andy Slavitt: Great. Let’s talk to Shannon Watts.
[08:11] Andy Slavitt: Shannon, we are so excited to have you that we had to, like, compete to figure out who could get to talk to you. And so Lana is in here.
[08:20] Lana Slavitt: Hi, Shannon. How are you doing?
[08:25] Shannon Watts: Good. You look very good in your photo.
[08:26] Lana Slavitt: Thank you. It’s one of my better photos. Full makeup and hair. So how are you and your family doing in isolation? You don’t have any younger children, so you probably haven’t had to do any home schooling.
[08:40] Shannon Watts: We haven’t done any home schooling. At one point, we had four of the five kids at home. We had two of our daughters, the oldest ones are out of college and working in Brooklyn. And as you can imagine, they were pretty scared at the beginning and came to our house for over a month, which is interesting to live with your adult kids. My son, our youngest, was a freshman in college in Southern California. And, you know, he had just pledged a fraternity and he was really sort of getting into the swing of things his freshman year and also, sadly, had to come home. So, you know, even though they’re older, there are still issues that go along with this coronavirus crisis that everyone is suffering through.
[09:24] Lana Slavitt: And your daughters from Brooklyn. Are they back there now?
[09:28] Shannon Watts: They are. They went back and one of them is actually going to move near us in the coming month. But the other one manages many retail stores there. And, you know, they’re starting to do curbside delivery. And so she needed to be back where she lived.
[09:45] Lana Slavitt: And do you have any family vacation plans or any other kind of plans for the summer?
[09:50] Shannon Watts: Vacation plans, that seems like such an odd idea now. We don’t. I think, you know, we’re happy being here. My husband, as he keeps reminding me, is over 60. And I want to make sure that, you know, he is safe and sound at home. And we both did a ton of travel before the coronavirus crisis. I probably was traveling three weeks a month, and my husband probably two for his job. And suddenly here we are now, I think we’re on day 68 together, alone at home. And it’s not a bad thing. And I’m really enjoying spending this time with him. And I am doing a lot of the work I used to do on the road just as well at home. So I am looking forward to a day when it’s safe again to do kind of normal things. But, you know, I’m very privileged and happy to be safe at home.
[10:41] Lana Slavitt: Well, and you also live in God’s country, too, so you’re lucky that way.
[10:47] Shannon Watts: We are very lucky. We moved to California just, you know, less than a year ago, and we haven’t had to have a winter. And if you’re going to be stuck somewhere, might as well be Northern California.
[10:58] Lana Slavitt: Absolutely. So shifting to Moms Demand Action. As you know, I’m the state elections lead for Minnesota. And one of the things that we are challenged with here, and I’m sure that moms in the other states are challenged with, is how do we advocate for gun reform when everyone’s focus is on Covid-19?
[11:18] Shannon Watts: Well, first of all, thank you so much for all the work that you do in Minnesota. You have, I think, been around since the very beginning. And you’ve just been an incredible leader with Moms Demand Action, and have really spearheaded all of the incredible change we’ve seen in the state of Minnesota. So thank you for that. I get asked that question a lot about how do we talk about gun violence given the coronavirus crisis, and is it appropriate? And my answer is always, if we don’t, who will? Because the truth is the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating our gun violence crisis. Suddenly, women are isolated at home with abusers. Millions of children are unexpectedly at home with unsecured guns. We know that people are struggling in America with isolation and concerns about their economic future, and they have easy access to guns. So things like domestic gun violence, unintentional shootings, gun suicides, the historic spike in gun sales we saw in March and April will reverberate for months and years to come, long after the coronavirus crisis is over. So, yes, we have to talk about this issue. We have to advocate for this issue. And most importantly, we have to make sure it’s still a top voting issue in 2020.
[12:36] Lana Slavitt: I agree. I was genuinely taken aback when so many states declared gun shops to be essential businesses, including Minnesota.
[12:45] Shannon Watts: Yeah. First of all, the Trump administration made that recommendation, as if gun stores were somehow as important as actual essential businesses during a crisis. And why did they do that? Because of the NRA. The NRA has exploited tragedies year after year in order to juice gun sales. And so we saw the Trump administration make that recommendation. We saw the ATF make curbside gun sales possible. Also, we saw the DOJ in the Trump administration send out a red flag warning about domestic gun violence because of the gun sales, because of women being isolated with abusers. So clearly, this administration is not listening to its own data and its own research and is doing the bidding of the gun lobby.
[13:31] Lana Slavitt: Yeah, I still remember that the highest month ever for gun sales was the month after Sandy Hook when everyone was so worried that their guns were going to be taken away. And how sad that was.
[13:42] Shannon Watts: We saw the NRA’s annual budget go up about $100 million after the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy. And that’s because they had a boogie man in the White House. They used the Obama administration to juice gun sales to erroneously make people afraid that their guns were going to be taken away, or that gun rights would be restricted. And that is how they became so profitable during the Obama administration. They don’t have a boogie man in the White House anymore. And that’s why there’s what we call a Trump slump. We know at least $100 million in the hole because of the Trump election. They can’t sell guns the way they used to. And we know the NRA itself. It has spent over $100 million dollars on legal fees because they’re being attacked on all sides. So they are really struggling. And it just goes to show the NRA is weaker than it’s ever been and our movement is stronger than it’s ever been.
[17:02] Lana Slavitt: I do worry about how we can work to reduce gun deaths during this time of isolation. I’m sure that there’s been an impact on domestic violence, as you’ve mentioned, and on suicide and things like that. Are there specific recommendations that you make for ways to reduce the risk at this time?
[17:21] Shannon Watts: The data is still coming in. So we believe that domestic gun violence is up about 20 percent so far. We believe that unintentional shootings are probably up around 40 percent. Gun suicide is more difficult to track. It’s very underreported. But we know intuitively that that data is up as well. And so we are calling on lawmakers to give law enforcement more time to complete background checks, for example. There is a loophole in federal law, it’s called the Charleston loophole. It’s how the Charleston shooter got his gun. And essentially, even though background checks are required by federal law, if it takes longer than three days, that licensed gun dealer can go ahead and sell the gun no questions asked. And that’s what happened in Charleston. He had a complicated criminal history. It’s why it took three days. But the reason it’s taking longer now is because of this historic rise in gun sales for March and April. Governor Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island, for example, has given law enforcement more time to complete those background checks. And so we’ve asked other governors to do the same. We are also advocating for stimulus dollars to go to domestic violence and suicide hotlines. And we’re also educating people about red flag laws in their state. A red flag law allows, depending on the state, a family member or a police officer to get a temporary restraining order that allows the removal of guns from someone temporarily who seems to be a danger to themselves or others. And we’re educating people about Be Smart. And that is a campaign that shows gun owners how to safely store their guns around children: locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition.
[19:05] Lana Slavitt: I’m glad you mentioned the Be Smart program, because that’s been one of my big concerns during this lockdown period, has been the number of children who are home for longer periods of time in probably some domestic situations that are more stressful than other times. Or even in those that aren’t where a parent might be careless with either a new or existing gun, and then the kid, because they’re bored and they’re at home with less to do, finds that gun. So you have to Be Smart program with the emphasis on safe gun storage is something that I wish we could get more people to understand and to participate in.
[19:40] Shannon Watts: Data shows us that most mass shootings are actually incidents of domestic violence that begin in someone’s home, in a private residence. It also shows us that most school shootings are carried out by students who have easy access to guns inside their home. We know that about 4.6 million kids already lived in homes in America with unsecured guns before this pandemic. With the historic rise in gun sales in March and April, many of those to new gun buyers, they may not have to have any training depending on the state they live in, or they may not know how to securely store a firearm. We saw that there really weren’t any school shootings in March or April so far. But I’m very worried about what happens in the fall, with all of these kids now living in homes with unsecured guns who are probably going back to school. During the pandemic, we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in digital ads around our Be Smart program to show these new gun buyers how to securely store their firearms.
[20:44] Lana Slavitt: And even the, you know, shootings outside the home are starting up again. I mean, I think about the Glendale, Arizona shooting by a 20-year-old male. This was also common before the pandemic, and I feel like we’re getting back to this, like, so soon. It’s kind of scary.
[21:00] Shannon Watts: Yeah, well, as you know, over 100 Americans are shot and killed every single day in this country. Mass shootings, school shootings, there’s about one percent of the gun violence. I think we thought that the daily gun violence in communities in America would slow down during the pandemic. We’re really not seeing that so far. It’s stayed the same or even risen in some places. And on top of that, we have the other risks that we were just talking about. So this continues to be an ongoing crisis simultaneous with the coronavirus crisis. And over 40,000 Americans are shot and killed in this country every single year. It’s something that voters should be educated about and vote on when they go to the polls.
[21:44] Lana Slavitt: So something that took me by surprise during these lockdown protests was the number of people who were carrying guns, and how many of the folks leading them were also people who were leading the gun rights protests, too.
[21:58] Shannon Watts: Yeah, we’re seeing a lot of these so-called protests being staged around the country. They’re actually being created by gun extremist groups. For example, there’s a group of brothers from Iowa called the Dorr Brothers, four of them. And the way they make money is to create Facebook pages that people have to pay to belong to. And then they turn those people out to these rallies, which are allegedly about stay-at-home orders and protesting so that governors will reopen their states. But really, this is about gun extremism. And what a lot of these extremists say is that they believe governors will create a stay-at-home order after a mass shooting and confiscate people’s guns or remove their gun rights, which we know is absurd. But it’s this nexus of gun extremism, and in many cases even white supremacy, bigotry, misogyny. And it’s terrifying to see people open-carrying outside and even inside statehouses in an attempt to intimidate lawmakers and ultimately to undermine democracy.
[23:06] Lana Slavitt: Yeah, the situation in Michigan with the Governor Whitmer being threatened by armed extremists within the state capitol building was pretty scary to see. She’s pretty brave for dealing with that.
[23:18] Shannon Watts: It’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that it’s a woman governor. And I think it’s important that America sees the logical outcome of our nation’s lax gun laws. Open-carry is completely legal in 45 states in this country. It’s pretty much unregulated. And it’s being used by extremists to threaten lawmakers, to silence their opposition, to intimidate. And it should not be allowed. And I’m hopeful lawmakers will see what’s going on and react by rolling back these dangerous open-carry laws.
[23:52] Lana Slavitt: One of the things I’ve been worried about a lot, you know, both because I care about voting and also as the Minnesota election lead for Moms is actually the elections, is getting people to be able to vote safely in the midst of a pandemic.
[24:05] Shannon Watts: Yes. And we have been working on that, too, first of all, by registering people to vote. We have invested about $1.5 million in Students Demand Action to do what’s called relational organizing. So they have a lot of time on their hands unexpectedly. They’re using that to reach out to their peer groups and to ask if they’re registered and to show them how to get registered. We hope to register at least 100,000 people before the election. And we’re also supporting the efforts of people like Stacey Abrams who are working on getting out the vote and protecting the vote in 2020. We’ve already committed to spending $60 million in this election. I thought by now we would be physically ringing doorbells, instead we’re digitally ringing them. There’s no playbook for how you get out the vote during a global pandemic. And so I believe, and I really do believe this, that Moms Demand Action volunteers, Students Demand Action volunteers, under the auspices of Everytown will write that playbook. We will show people how you get out the vote and win during a pandemic.
[25:12] Andy Slavitt: Shannon, this is Andy. We’re sitting here today, as we’re recording this interview, is probably going to be the day we officially cross 100,000 thousand deaths from Covid-19. And I’m having a tough time grounding myself in where the horror and outrage and shock is. And I think to me, it reflects upon when we started to see shootings in schools and in churches and in concerts and in nightclubs. And the first time it happened, it felt horrible, like we were entering a new place that the public would never tolerate. And then it just kind of went on. And I worry that we sit here today and we don’t know how to bear witness to all these lives. I’m wondering what lessons you have for us as we think about this ongoing set of tragedies, and how we really make it sink in.
[26:15] Shannon Watts: Well, in terms of gun violence, you know, we’ve been sold a bill of goods by the gun lobby for decades. They’ve told us that the Second Amendment, you know, is somehow a suicide pact, as opposed to a framework for for regulating laws. And that it’s essentially the price of freedom that 40,000 Americans would die every year, many from gun suicide, but also innocent children who are shot down on their streets of their communities or in the halls of their schools. We know that that is not the way we should be living. We know the vast majority of Americans will not tolerate it. What has happened is that some lawmakers have been beholden to the gun lobby, a quid pro quo, right for money and campaign support in exchange for votes the way the gun lobby wants them to vote. And I do think that too many Americans have been complacent. There’s this silent majority that has not voted on this issue for a long time. You know, they were voting on the economy or education or healthcare. And clearly, this needed to be a priority. And that’s why Moms Demand Action was formed, to make that case. You know, we have grown exponentially. We’re one of the largest grassroots movements in this country. And not because all of our volunteers have been impacted by gun violence, but in many cases because they’re moms who have sent their kids to school for the first time in kindergarten. And those kids have essentially had to rehearse their own deaths in the bathroom of their classroom. And they decided we don’t have to live like this. They don’t want to live like this. And if there’s a lesson from Moms Demand Action, it’s that concerned citizens can make a difference. We’ve made a huge difference in less than eight years. And I think if we can win in 2020, it is a pivotal moment for our movement, then we can actually dismantle the special interests and the lawmakers’ grip on our laws and our culture to create real change that the people who do care about what you’re talking about, the loss of life, are in charge.
[30:49] Lana Slavitt: did want to call out one thing, I don’t think a lot of people are familiar with the work you do with Emerge America, helping to identify and train and encourage women to run for office. And how important that actually is to this movement. I mean, we’ve seen all these millions of moms, many of whom were never involved in politics before this, who now have part-time, and in some cases, a full-time job like you advocating for gun reform and gun safety legislation and movements.
[31:18] Shannon Watts: One of the most rewarding things I do is to help other women run for office. And it’s not something I expected, frankly, when I started Moms Demand Action. But it is sort of this logical step from wanting to move from not just shaping policy, but to actually making it. And just this election cycle, we have 39 Moms Demand Action volunteers and gun violence survivors who are running for office. And those include educators and healthcare workers, veterans. One of the most proud moments of my organizing volunteer career is when Lucy McBath, former Moms Demand Action spokeswoman, a gun violence survivor, was elected to Congress in Georgia. I think it’s incredibly important for us to have a seat at the table, for women to have a seat at the table. We only hold about 20 percent of the 500,000 elected positions in this country. And as the saying goes, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu. And we see that over and over again. I mean, the Violence Against Women Act is a good example. It hasn’t been reauthorized. It’s been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk for over a year. The reason is it contains a provision that would prevent convicted dating partners and stalkers, it would prohibit them from becoming prohibited purchasers. So it makes it easier to have guns. And the NRA is going to score lawmakers on how they vote on that. That’s the only reason that VAWA hasn’t been reauthorized. And I really do think if we had a more equitable representation of women in Congress, in statehouses, in municipalities, it would be a completely different story.
[32:59] Lana Slavitt: Is there anything else that you’ve learned as a gun reform activist that you think that people can apply to other issues that are important to them right now?
[33:07] Shannon Watts: Yeah, you know, I actually wrote a whole book about that. It’s called Fight Like a Mother. Just came out in paperback. Proceeds go to gun violence prevention organizations. I wrote it for a few reasons. One was kind of part memoir, people asked me what it was like to go from being a stay-at-home mom to the tip of the spear on what can be a volatile issue. I wrote it as part manifesto so that women would run for office. But also part manual, because I have so many people, particularly women, who ask me like, how did you do this? I’m really passionate about whatever issue it might be. Climate change, education, healthcare, whatever. But I want to know how you did this. How did you start something in your kitchen and how did it turn into one of the largest grassroots movements in the country? And so I put that all on paper. You know how this group of women, who were perfect strangers, came together across the country on Facebook and ended up taking on the gun lobby and winning? And one of the most important lessons I learned was you don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to be perfect. You’re going to fail. And it’s OK. You should still do it anyway. I think women feel like they have to cross every T, dot every I, before they jump into something, because there’s a fear of failing in public, because they don’t feel qualified. I don’t meet a lot of men who have those same gating factors. And look, if I waited to know everything there was about gun violence, about organizing, about the legislative system before I jumped in, I still wouldn’t have started Moms Demand Action. And I have failed, we have had plenty of losses along the way, but we call it losing forward. We always figure out what we’ve won during a battle, even if it’s a loss, so that we can win the next time. And I think that has to be the mindset of any activist.
[35:03] Lana Slavitt: I think that’s all very true. I love the book, by the way. We see a lot of those lessons learned when we do advocacy days at the state capital. And many of our volunteers are nervous about actually having a conversation with their legislator, especially if they’re on the other side about, you know, gun safety legislation. And in our coaching, we will generally tell them you are allowed to not know everything. You’re allowed to just say, “I’m upset about gun violence in this state. And I want you to work on laws that will make it safer for me and my family.” And it’s up to the legislator to actually, like, answer the questions that you have in ways that make sense to you.
[35:43] Shannon Watts: I’m sure you’ve had this experience. I’ve been at state legislatures across the country for almost eight years now, and I’m here to tell you, they are not rocket scientists, all of them. 80 percent of them are men. And I think I figured, you know, they want to hear from me. They’re very smart people who are well-versed in the issues. And it’s not necessarily the case, especially depending on the state you’re in. If you are kind, compassionate, smart, interested, committed, you are more than capable of holding elected office. And you realize that just by spending a small amount of time at your statehouse.
[36:20] Lana Slavitt: Absolutely. We have a couple Moms’ leaders who are running in Minnesota right now, and I’m very anxious to get out there and start supporting their campaigns.
[36:28] Shannon Watts: Well, I mean, we’re already doing that. And I think it’s so important that people understand that, you know, we don’t have any time to waste to plug into the 2020 election. We were built for this. We started on Facebook. We give every single volunteer access to the most sophisticated technologies that most companies and organizations only give to their leadership. And I think that really made us ready to go in this moment. We are having as many events as we did pre-pandemic, but we’re just having them online. And we have a Gunsense action network that calls in to states all across the country to educate voters about who their Gunsence candidates are, where, when, how to vote. We’re holding campaign rallies online. I’ve been having conversations with what we call Demanding Women. I’m having, you know, another one with some potential vice-presidential candidates coming up. And so it’s an important, exciting time. What I have learned is that these online technologies make us even more equitable, more inclusive. I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the way we just did things mostly in person. This online work will now be a part of our DNA.
[37:38] Lana Slavitt: I think that’s true, actually. And I think actually some people who in the past were hesitant to do some of our in-person advocacy work are stepping up because there’s a little bit more of a safe feeling to do it from behind a computer. And that’s fine with me.
[37:51] Shannon Watts: Yeah, you give us an hour of your time, type A women will make the most of it, I promise. And we win by making it something that Republicans and Democrats agree on. And I always say that that happens election cycle by election cycle, by showing lawmakers that if they do the right thing, we’ll have their backs. If they do the wrong thing, we’ll have their jobs. And you just have to show that over and over again. And that’s why this is a marathon, not a sprint. But we are getting so, so close to passing good laws at a federal level and really changing the face of this issue for decades to come.
[38:25] Lana Slavitt: Thank you so much for your work on this. I mean, it’s really inspiring. And, you know, I love following you online and reading your tweets about, you know, everything from voting rights to women running, to gun violence, health care, everything. So thank you for your advocacy.
[38:41] Shannon Watts: Well, and thank you for being an amazing Moms Demand Action volunteer.
[38:44] Lana Slavitt: You’re welcome.
[38:48] Andy Slavitt: The thing that amazes me about Shannon is what she was saying at the end. She shows that you can actually do things that people think are impossible. Nobody really thought that you could take on the NRA, what she says is true, for decades. It felt impossible until she came along and then until you guys came along.
[39:07] Lana Slavitt: It’s true. When I first started doing this work, we had to seek out candidates to talk to them about our issue and to try to get them to embrace it. And now I’m running our Gunsense Distinction program in Minnesota. And I have candidates seeking me out, trying to get the survey and agitating over not having got the distinction yet. So what a difference four years makes
[39:32] Andy Slavitt: Do you remember last year at the state fair when I wore the Moms Demand Action shirt, and you said you might get some abuse from people walking around the fair, you know, kind of ribbing you and giving you a hard time.
[39:44] Lana Slavitt: Yeah. Do you remember who actually gave you lots of props? It was moms. Some dads. But a lot more moms than dads.
[39:55] Andy Slavitt: But I didn’t get any crap. I mean, I guess my point was this is people from all over the state, people with a variety of views. And I expected, like you said, that it would go both directions. And it was 98 percent positive.
[40:09] Lana Slavitt: Yeah, it’s mostly positive when I wear my shirt. But I will say that men are more likely to say something to a woman wearing a Moms Demand Action shirt than they are to a man wearing a Moms Demand Action shirt. But yes, that was a rewarding experience because, yeah, the state fair — which is canceled this year, which is really sad for Minnesota. But the state fair attracts people from all over the state. So to see that many people giving us a thumbs up and in some cases even clapping, which was hilarious, was really rewarding.
[40:40] Andy Slavitt: Awesome. Was great talking to her. So now that we are deeply into Segment 3, a lot of reflections from Shannon were about safety. And Zach and I and Lana talked about earlier, how we open safely. Feels like at the center of the storm is the state of Michigan. I don’t know about you, but I feel like every single day I’m seeing a new thing about Michigan. First, there’s the protesters with the guns. Then, of course, the president seems to visit it a lot. It’s been a hotspot in Detroit. And the governor, Governor Whitmer, is quite popular and in the news all the time. In fact, Gretchen Whitmer is gonna be on one of our upcoming episodes. But in the meantime, to get a good beat on Michigan, I’m calling someone who I know quite well, who lives in Flint, Michigan, my sister. My sister Leslie.
[41:37] Andy Slavitt: Hey, Les.
[41:38] Leslie: Hey, Andrew, how are you?
[41:42] Andy Slavitt: Good. So back story here is people were, about a month ago, a month and a half ago, people were starting to die in the state of Michigan. Hospitals were getting filled up. It was kind of a mess. And you wanted to get involved. So you basically volunteered. Kind of like in the Army. And so now you’re a volunteer. Are you being all you can be?
[42:06] Leslie: It might be more of an Air Force analogy, but I’m certainly doing my best to fix, fly, and land the plane at the same time.
[42:12] Andy Slavitt: Oh, that sounds cool. So what do they have you do?
[42:16] Leslie: So the first piece of work I did was it was related to the field hospital. So I worked on clinical staffing for the field hospitals. I subsequently moved on to start working on neighborhood testing. And now, probably in deference a little bit to the Air Force analogy, I’m doing some air traffic control related to testing across the state in Michigan.
[42:34] Andy Slavitt: So first, you were working on getting more hospital beds in the state when that was a crisis. And then when that crisis passed, they moved you over to try to get more testing in the state. These are like two of the most important operational things that states have had to do. But you don’t really have a background in this stuff. You’re not really a healthcare person. So how did you do it? And how’s it been working out?
[43:00] Leslie: So I think it really has been successful. And I have to say, you know, one of the things I learned really quickly is you just have to act. You have imperfect information, but you must act. But I think sort of more important than that for me has been the reason it’s been successful. And that’s because of these incredible public servants I’ve had the privilege of working with in the state. I mean, I don’t know the origin of the terminology public servant. But I have to tell you, they’ve absolutely defined its meaning for me. And that’s been the greatest privilege. The dedication, the hard work, the imagination, the relentless care for the citizens of Michigan is really overwhelming.
[43:33] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, I have experienced that when I was working in the federal government. Like there’s nothing like being in the middle of a crisis and watching people who have basically signed up to serve the residents just kick into gear. It takes a little while. It’s a little bit chaotic. But you’re right, working behind these people are great. So if people are out there and they want to volunteer, what do you do? You just call up the governor and said, hey, I want to volunteer?
[44:00] Leslie: I probably wouldn’t recommend calling the governor, but I would say to pick up the phone or send an email or sign up. I think there are extraordinary opportunities to serve and there’s lots of ways to make meaningful contributions for the citizens of Michigan.
[44:16] Andy Slavitt: Or any state, depending where you live. OK. But speaking of Michigan, what is up with your state, Leslie? I mean, you got people marching with guns, threatening the governor. The president kind of firing shots across the bow at the governor. He’s in the state visiting car factories. You know, she’s in the news all the time. It seems like a day doesn’t go by when there’s not like feeling Michigan is the sort of ground-zero now, center of this storm.
[44:42] Leslie: Yeah, well, you know, as dad would say, everyone has an opinion. But, I mean, I think we all know that these are extraordinarily difficult times. But for me, I think it’s really important to keep focused on the goal. We have got to increase testing. We’ve got to open up safely. I mean, Michigan is flattening the curve and this is hard work and it’s complicated. But we’ve got to continue to move forward doing the right things.
[45:04] Andy Slavitt: How’s it going? I mean, what is it like on the ground or is it getting better?
[45:08] Leslie: You know, right now I’m mostly focused on testing, which to your point, is a good transition. I think when we, you know, turned out the lights and closed the doors at the field hospital in Detroit, there was a great sense of like, you know, one phase, at least for now, being over. But the work continues and that work is really focused on testing and contact tracing. And so that’s really where I sort of most see through and most clear eyes on right now.
[45:38] Andy Slavitt: It’s kinda cool to see. I mean, you’re my kid sister, although people will listen and say, well, she sounds smarter than him, but you certainly probably everyone knows you’re younger because I’m all gray in my beard. But it’s cool because you didn’t really have any experience here, you just basically said, I want to help. Stopped what you were doing in the middle of your life and you basically jumped in and done a lot of good. So it’s very cool to hear. And I hear people in the state saying that you’re leaving quite an impression, doing a great job. So I think you’re making our mom proud. You’re making your nephews proud. And you definitely would’ve made our dad proud.
[46:14] Leslie: Well, you know, it takes one to know one, Andrew. So I think, as I always have, I have big footsteps to march behind.
[46:22] Andy Slavitt: Zach, did you want to ask Aunt Leslie a question?
[46:25] Zach Slavitt: Yeah, I was just wondering, being from Flint and experiencing everything that happened with the water crisis, do you think there’s anything you’ve learned or people can learn from that experience that can inform this one?
[46:40] Leslie: That’s an interesting question. You know, I think in Flint it’s hard because it’s just layers of difficulty. I think we have to learn to trust in one another, to rely on one another, and to know that we will get past this. And the importance of government — though that can be, I think was expressly challenged for Flint because of the water crisis — is just so key now. And so building that trust is key to our success.
[47:05] Andy Slavitt: That is cool. All right. We’ll talk to you soon. Say hi to Doug. And we’ll hopefully get to see each other soon.
[47:22] Andy Slavitt: Thanks to Leslie for coming on and talking about the great work going on in Michigan. Thanks also to Shannon Watts for the great work that you’re doing and for helping us see what some of the ties are between what’s going on with the pandemic and with guns. And of course, thanks to Lana for doing a great job on the interview and being a great co-host. And Zach and everyone else. Hope everybody has a great week. Next week, we have two episodes coming up on Monday as a mini conversation with Al Franken. that will be more lighthearted. And then on Wednesday, we have two people at the same time, Sinéad Burke and Dennis Heaphy, both of whom are amazing advocates for the disability community. And we’re going to talk about how the coronavirus has been impacting the disability community. And I think it will be a great topic. They’re great folks. In the meantime, stay safe.
[48:24] Andy Slavitt: Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavitt is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.