Shannon Watts was a consultant and stay-at-home mother of five in Zionsville, Ind., with maybe 75 Facebook friends when a gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012 and fatally shot 20 children. Ms. Watts sat down at her kitchen table trying to find something similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, i.e. a nonpartisan, mom-led advocacy group to protect kids from gun violence. She didn’t find one, so instead wrote a screed on Facebook that eventually became a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Today, Moms Demand Action is among the most prominent gun-control organizations in the country, a nonprofit with nearly six million supporters, more than the N.R.A. Ms. Watts now crisscrosses the country to meet with allies, organize volunteers and pressure elected officials. Those efforts have led to gun safety legislation passed in 20 states, with nine of those bills signed into law by Republican governors.
Ms. Watts, who is 48 and living in Colorado, had once worked in corporate communications and had held a nonpolitical job in state government, so she wasn’t exactly a novice in how to shape an effective narrative. If the gun lobby made gun owners fear that tougher laws would mean losing their rifles, she figured she could motivate mothers — of all political leanings — that inaction could mean the worst fear imaginable: losing a child.
Ms. Watts, whose book “Fight Like a Mother” was just released, and her “army of angry moms” have successfully pushed Starbucks, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Panera Bread and other businesses to ban firearms. The efforts have made her a favorite target of pro-gun-rights groups and a symbol of what many Americans see as an infringement on the Second Amendment. She receives so many threats that she often travels with a bodyguard — one who doesn’t carry a gun.
(We spoke in late March.)
5 a.m. Half awake. My husband, John, works in California and is commuting to Colorado until our son graduates from high school. I hear him sneak downstairs to his packed suitcase.
8 a.m. I start conference calls, email responses and tweets, accompanied by a skim latte, two poached eggs and rye toast.
9 a.m. I’d planned to spend the morning working, but see the news that Jeremy Richman, the father of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, has died by suicide. I’d spent time with Jeremy and his wife and children after his daughter Avielle’s death. We shared an interest in Buddhism and meditation. I am devastated.
1 p.m. My assistant Meghan calls about my trip tomorrow to Boston. I’m going to take a later flight so I can do an MSNBC hit about the new bump-stock ban.
3 p.m. Call a friend in Los Angeles who is planning a party there for my book launch. My travel schedule this summer will be insane, and I’m glad my son will be at camp. That way I don’t have to worry about him having parties at our house while I’m out of town.
5:30 p.m. Time to unwind. I ride eight miles on my Peloton to ’80s pop music. My husband is traveling, and I have a notoriously hard time opening wine corks. I see he stocked the fridge with delicious screw-top wines. Yay husband.
7 p.m. Start packing for my trip — black and navy suit, a pair of black heels and my red Moms Demand Action T-shirt. In a perfect world, I’d dress more sassily, like Nancy Pelosi, but because of my lack of creativity, I just buy clothes in dark, monotone colors — kind of like an adult version of Garanimals.
8:30 a.m. Tape a podcast about our new campaign, “One Thing You Can Do,” aimed at educating people in 14 states plus Washington, D.C., that have red flag laws about how they can use this tool when a loved one is in crisis.
9:30 a.m. Watch the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on red flag laws while retweeting photos of our Moms Demand Action volunteers who showed up to watch the proceedings. I get asked all the time if I do my own social media — yes, that’s all me. I love to scan Twitter in waiting rooms, in grocery lines and while waiting on runways. Some people play Candy Crush, I tweet.
10:30 a.m. Leave for a remote studio in Denver for my MSNBC hit with my suitcase in tow — a carry-on. I have a repetitive injury in my shoulder from lifting my suitcase into the plane overhead, but I would rather have a rhino gnaw off my toenails than have to check my luggage through baggage claim.
1 p.m. Working on a Medium piece in honor of Nancy Pelosi’s birthday, scrolling through photos of when we first met in March 2013. I’m nostalgic about all that Moms Demand Action has accomplished since then, but the work has taken its toll. Googling how long it takes to recover from an eyelid lift.
4 p.m. Take off for Boston. Spend time during the flight catching up on news and Twitter. (Did I really tweet 100 times today?) We’re in the thick of legislative sessions across the nation. I see our volunteers showed up at statehouses and hearing rooms in New Hampshire, Delaware and Florida and even spent 10 hours in Texas hearings.
6 p.m. Use the plane time to write speeches and editorials. I’m a good writer, but get one glass of red wine in me and I become Virginia Woolf. I get notes from my communications team: “If you’re flying tonight, could you edit this op-ed?” Something about all those sulfites gets my creativity flowing.
10:30 p.m. Take my contacts out. I’m legally blind and have worn contacts since I was 14. Now that I’m 48 and going through perimenopause, I realize that all those women talking about their dry eyes on TV ads weren’t kidding around.
8 a.m. Dazed and confused, thanks to East Coast time difference. Spend the morning going through emails and preparing for a podcast about women activists.
10 a.m. Tape podcast while sitting in Velcro rollers and doing my makeup so I can leave right away for Rhode Island for an advocacy day with Gov. Gina Raimondo. I always say women make successful activists because they’re multitasking monsters.
2 p.m. There have been so many threats that two security guys meet me at my car when I arrive. Their job is to take me to the nearest hospital if anything happens.
4 p.m. Governor Raimondo and other lawmakers show up for the rally. A survivor of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting tells her story. She’s shaking when she sits back down next to me.
5 p.m. In the car, I eat an arm off a cookie shaped like a red Moms Demand Action T-shirt because I forgot to get lunch. I can turn on the energy, but after a big event I have to be alone to recharge. I love what I do, but the part where I interact with crowds doesn’t come naturally.
7 p.m. Participate in a Harvard panel about women and activism for the school’s Women’s Law Association. Great questions from some of the brightest (lady) legal minds of the future.
5:45 a.m. Quickly packed, dressed and headed to the airport for a seven-hour flight to San Francisco.
8 a.m. Sleep a couple of hours on the flight, then work on an op-ed, for Elle or another women’s magazine, about how the gun lobby is getting involved in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. News breaks that the Supreme Court won’t hear any more cases about the bump stock prohibition — it’s the law of the land. So I am tweeting about that. Working on logistics for my book tour.
10:30 a.m. (Pacific) Just gained three hours! Jump in an Uber to grab lunch with Nancy Tung in Oakland. Nancy is a longtime Moms Demand Action volunteer and career prosecutor who recently jumped into the district attorney race in San Francisco.
Noon Talk to Nancy about how she could leverage our network to help fund-raise and canvass. I get out my phone and start calling people.
2 p.m. Uber to Walnut Creek while finishing my op-ed and preparing for a call with our internal diversity, equity and inclusion committee.
4 p.m. Keeping track on Twitter of the Colorado Senate’s vote on a red flag law. One of the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Tom Sullivan, is the father of a son who was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. And now Tom’s bill, in honor of his son, passes by just one vote. Sometimes entire games are won by field goals. Feeling elated.
9 p.m. Thanks to jet lag, I’m toast. Going to bed.
6:30 a.m. Wake up to get ready to drive to Dublin, Calif. I’m off to join Representative Eric Swalwell at a gun range for a veterans’ event he’s hosting. I don’t own a gun, but many of our volunteers are gun owners or they’re married to them. Moms Demand Action isn’t anti-gun, we’re anti-gun violence.
9 a.m. The congressman leads everyone through intros and thanks the veterans for their service. Then about 20 of us go outside and shoot at targets on a training range. Of about 20 shots, I hit the 8, 9 and 10 circles half the time.
11 a.m. Drive to Oakland to meet volunteers for lunch before heading over to Youth Alive, a violence intervention and prevention organization. We talk about the chapter’s plans to wear orange this year at an annual gun violence prevention awareness weekend in June. One of the volunteers, Nicole, is a survivor whose 16-year-old son was shot several times and disabled. Six years later, her daughter — a 20-year-old college student studying to be a veterinarian — was shot and killed in crossfire while she was riding in a car.
3:30 p.m. Headed back to Walnut Creek. Can’t stop thinking about Nicole.
Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.