Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In the Crosshairs Advocating for Gun Safety Isn't Safe

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In the Crosshairs Advocating for Gun Safety Isn't Safe

Article excerpt

The day after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., I started a Facebook page aimed at uniting American mothers in a fight against gun violence. Married and living in suburban Indianapolis, I was a stay-at-home mom of five and not in any way political, aside from voting. But I'd seen the difference the women of MADD made around drunken driving. Why, I wondered, couldn't we do the same?

I was wholly unprepared for the blowback headed my way.

Within hours of speaking out about our nation's lax gun laws, I received my first threats of sexual violence and death. Over the next several months, my phone throbbed with angry texts and phone calls, often in the middle of the night. My fledgling Twitter feed - which I didn't really know how to use yet - was on fire. I started getting letters mailed to my home, complete with cutouts from magazines to spell out threats to my life.

My email was hacked; my Facebook photos were downloaded and distributed publicly; my phone number and home address were shared online; my children's social media accounts were hacked and the names of their schools shared online.

The underlying message: Stop talking about guns, or we'll harm you or someone you love.

And as Moms Demand Action began to grow and win in statehouses and boardrooms, the threats and outrage from gun extremists grew more intense. I had to block so many of them on social media that #ImBlockedByShannonWatts actually trended on Twitter.

Even the National Rifle Association got in on the misogyny, publishing a magazine article parodying me as a 1950s housewife. It questioned whether I was a "real" mom - simply because I had had a career before choosing to stay home with my kids.

At first, this bullying shocked and scared me. It was overwhelming to wake up every day to more venom. But as I spoke to our volunteers in chapters across the country, I found out that I wasn't alone in my experience.

The intimidation via emails, texts, calls and online was happening locally, too. …

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