States across the country are passing gun control legislation in response to mass shootings, as groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America gain political clout. In deep red states, though, activists must both temper their expectations and reckon with residents and lawmakers often hostile to any limitations on their right to bear arms.
In Boise, Idaho, Moms Demand Action activists meet in a spartan, unmarked office. They don’t advertise meetings beyond their members for fear of harassment. They say they’ve been taped secretly, attacked online, and even stopped in the halls of the state Capitol by their opponents.
The local Boise activists are part of a nationwide group that sprung out of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in which the shooter killed 27 people, most at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, before killing himself. The group members’ red shirts stand out at legislative hearings and rallies.
Nationally, the group has been pushing politicians to adopt stricter regulation on guns and even getting pro-regulation candidates elected to Congress. Much of their funding has come from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — a bogeyman for gun rights proponents — and the group he founded, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which later merged with Everytown For Gun Safety.
The national organization says it has more than 350,000 donors and boasts local chapters in all 50 states.
Gun control activists, however, face tremendous headwinds in many red states. Kentucky, for example, recently became the latest state to implement so-called constitutional carry, the ability to carry concealed weapons with no permit.
State groups like Idaho’s are all-volunteer and pay for events from a mix of donations and funding from the national organization. In Idaho, as in many states, victories for organizations like Moms Demand Action are often marked not in growing political power or the organization of mass rallies, but in gun locks handed out, safe storage lessons taught and legislation not passed.
“The topic of gun violence can be so divisive that people don’t want to have these conversations,” said Elana Story, a former medical social worker who leads Moms Demand Action in Idaho.