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Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany.  Well, who knew you could get arrested for knocking on a door in the Georgia State Capitol? That’s what happened to State Representative Park Cannon just last week. I know you saw the video because I did too, and she’s a queer Black woman and she was hauled away in handcuffs by state troopers, like I said, for knocking on a door. Now, behind that door sat “Governor” and I say that in quotes, Brian Kemp, along with six white men and an antebellum plantation painting. He was signing bill 202 a.k.a. Jim Crow 2.0. This new law, among other restrictions, will impose ID requirements for mail in ballots and make it a crime to hand out food and water to voters standing in lines that are long because of your old fashioned voter suppression. Representative Cannon wanted to witness this BS in the making, but instead she was dragged out of the Georgia State Capitol and charged with two felonies. 

The whole thing absolutely infuriates me. But it also makes one thing clear. White supremacy is more scared of a Black, queer woman knocking on a door than they are of white domestic terrorists storming the Capitol building. Park Cannon is a threat to white patriarchal supremacy, and so are we. White supremacy is a system built on a faulty premise y’all, and its deep insecurities mean it will resort to violence and blatantly racist laws to maintain itself. Now I am no Pollyanna, I know that challenging the powers that be comes with real danger, I know that personally. It’s not a coincidence that these new voter restrictions are happening in Georgia, the same state where BIPOC organizers recently mobilized us all to victory. And neither is the timing of all these voter suppression, anti-trans and anti-protest bills being shoved through state houses all over the country. The backlash will always be fierce, and the ways we love and protect one another have to be fiercer. I know this past year has been hard and you’re more than allowed to take a breather. But stay in the battle. The struggle for damn sure continues. 


On the show today, is this moment for gun politics really any different? I’ll be talking to Shannon Watts the founder of Moms Demand Action about the epidemic of gun violence and why now is the time to finally bring about background checks and other safety measures. 

Shannon Watts Because the NRA is so weak — they’re bankrupt. They’re not the political force they used to be. We’re stronger than we’ve ever been. This is the time for a gun sense president, a gun sense Senate, and a gun sense House to act. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News”.   

So, yesterday, Wednesday, was the International Transgender Day of Visibility and the last day of Women’s History Month. To mark the occasion, 190 women’s organizations and leading feminists released an open letter supporting trans women and girls. Raquel Willis, a Black trans activist and friend of the show. She was recently on UNDISTRACTED. She helped organize the letter. She reads:

Raquel Willis We acknowledge with clarity and strength that transgender women are women and that transgender girls are girls. And we believe that honoring the diversity of women’s experiences is a strength, not a detriment, to the feminist cause. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham This letter, which I and The Meteor absolutely signed as well, comes amid a surge of anti-transgender bills, many focused on denying health care to trans youth and keeping trans teens from playing sports. On Monday, Arkansas state legislature became the first to deny trans children basic access to gender affirming medical care. And it’s not just Republicans who are pushing an anti-trans agenda. Y’all, this hate is coming from inside the House. Some supposed women’s rights advocates, I use that term loosely. They’re called TERFs, which stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. They’re just as guilty of bigotry and discrimination. Yes, I’m looking at you, J.K. Rowling. We must stand up for our trans sisters. Trans women are women and trans issues are feminist issues. And if your feminism denies the right of trans women and girls to exist, it’s not feminism, it’s selfishness. As Audrey Lawrence said, I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.

File this next item under progress. New Zealand has approved legislation that will give couples who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth three days of paid leave. This law is believed to be among the first in the world, if not the first. Employers in New Zealand had already been required to provide paid leave in the event of a stillbirth, which is when a fetus is lost after 20 weeks or more. But this new legislation will expand that leave to anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point. Ginny Andersen, the Labour MP who drafted the bill, she had this to say: 

Ginny Andersen If this bill did anything, I really hope it’s provided an opportunity to have more openness about issues such as stillbirths, miscarriage and childbirth. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So true, people shouldn’t have to suffer in silence from what is sadly so, so common. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 20 percent of all known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage. So let’s get legislation like this on the books here, too, and let’s stop making people feel like failures for dealing with normal and tragic loss. So thanks New Zealand for leading the way on this one. 

And finally, the battle over the filibuster is heating up. Now, some of you know that I used to be an elementary school teacher, so I decided to use my powers to give a quick explanation of what the filibuster is and why I think it’s got to go. Basically, it’s a tactic used in the Senate where a lawmaker slows down or blocks someone else’s bill from getting a vote. You’ve seen the wildly long speeches. It’s like, you know, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith And I’m going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham The speeches go on and on until there’s actually no time left to vote. Now, to bring the end to a filibuster, you need 60 senators to close the debate. Without this supermajority the bill remains in limbo, often indefinitely, and the Senate just moves on to other business. And here’s the thing, the filibuster wasn’t invented to defend white supremacy, but white supremacists love to exploit it. It’s been used to block everything from anti-lynching legislation to ending Jim Crow laws. The filibuster is now the biggest obstacle stopping Democrats from getting important laws passed like federal voting protections and gun safety legislation. Look, when a bully uses a toy to hurt another kid, you take away his toy. We need to take away the GOP’s weaponized toy, a.k.a. the filibuster. The Democratic majority could get rid of this delaying tactic altogether. And I know that that comes with risks, but I believe the modern filibuster has become nothing more than parliamentary posturing and a severe threat to civil rights. 

So, to close the lesson there’s only one pop quiz and it’s for the Democratic Party. Buck up and get it done. 

Coming up, America is number one in the world…number one when it comes to civilian gun ownership. I’ll be talking to Moms Demand founder Shannon Watts about what needs to be done to curb gun violence once and for all. That’s happening right after this short break. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And we’re back. Well, my guest today calls herself the worst nightmare of the NRA. Shannon Watts was a stay at home mom back in 2012 when she became inspired to fight for gun safety after the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. She founded the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which now has a chapter in every state, hundreds of thousands of volunteers and more than six million supporters. But unfortunately, when it comes to gun violence in this country, things are only getting worse. Last month, we saw two lethal mass shootings involving 18 victims in the span of just a few days. And then there is all the pervasive gun violence in our communities that we haven’t been seeing. So what needs to be done to finally change our gun laws? I wanted to hear what Shannon has to say. 

Gosh, Shannon, thank you for coming on the show and spending time with us. I know you hear this way too much, but I really wish it were under different circumstances. 

Shannon Watts Thank you so much. You know, I do, too. But it is so important to talk about this when it is top of mind for the public, because that’s when people get off the sidelines and they decide to get involved and they decide to act. So it is important to have these conversations. But I’ll be back on to celebrate our wins too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So, yeah, I want to get into just how much of an epidemic gun violence really is, but before we go there, I just want to ask you where your heart and mind have been these past couple of weeks? 

Shannon Watts It’s the moment that I’ve been worried about this whole past year. You know, mass shootings slowed down because we weren’t gathering in public places because we were getting together at one another’s homes. But in the meantime, there were nearly 50 million background checks conducted on gun sales across the country. So tens of millions of guns have been sold. That’s on top of the four hundred million guns that already are in the hands of civilians in this country. And sadly, America is the only high income country where getting back to normal means these horrific public shootings resume. You know, people think that gun violence went away during the pandemic because they didn’t see coverage of the kind of shootings we’ve seen in Atlanta and Boulder. But it was actually the deadliest year on record in decades for gun violence. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham This is exactly the point that we ignore these problems and they fester and get worse while we are looking in the other direction. So as you said, according to the Gun Violence Archive, people have actually been dying from gun violence at a record rate this last year. Gun violence killed nearly 20 thousand Americans in 2020 more than any other year in the last two decades. And an additional 24 thousand people died by suicide with a gun. So, as you said, things got worse, not better during this pandemic. 

Shannon Watts That’s right. 100 Americans are shot and killed in this country every single day and hundreds more are wounded. We have a twenty five times higher gun homicide rate than any other high income country in the world. This is something that’s unique to America and we know what’s causing it, despite what we’re seeing lawmakers say about these recent mass shootings, you know, pointing the finger at mental illness or at violent video games or gun laws themselves. We know based on data, based on science, that the reason we have so much gun violence in America is because we have such easy access to guns. And the reason we have easy access to guns is, is something else we have that’s unique to any other high income country. We have a powerful and wealthy special interest called the NRA. And essentially we’ve been allowing gun lobbyists to write our gun laws for decades. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Let’s talk about that, because you came to this work in a deeply personal way and yet have built something massive alongside so many other people. I want to catch everyone up on how you became mobilized. So it’s 2012. You are a stay at home mom of five kids, which means you have three full time jobs at once. You’re at home in Indiana folding laundry when you see breaking news come across your television. What did you see? 

Shannon Watts I saw video of children being led out of an elementary school, of teachers and families looking terrified, knowing that this was going to be horrific. But I have to say, even now, I kind of can’t fathom the fact that 20 first graders and six educators were slaughtered inside an American elementary school. 

And, look, everyone was devastated. I’m sure you were, too. We were all so incredibly heartbroken, but I immediately became angry. And what made me angry was that I saw pundits and politicians on my television saying somehow the solution was actually more guns, that there just weren’t enough guns in the country, and that the teachers, if only they’d been armed, they could have stopped this somehow. And I went online and I thought, okay, Mothers Against Drunk Driving was incredibly formative for me as a teen growing up in the 80s. I want to join something like that. It’s time. And I couldn’t find anything. And so I just started a Facebook page that honestly I thought was going to be an online conversation about having some kind of organization like that. And it actually turned into an offline movement in large part because of the Type A women in this country who also wanted to get off the sidelines.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Shout out to Type A women, we will save the world. 

But you know, I really love this story because it is an example of how one person can make a difference by turning anger into action alongside this incredible community that you’ve built. You’ve gone from 75 friends in that Facebook group to creating the largest gun violence prevention group in the entire country. And because you mentioned them, I have to say that your organization has more members than the NRA. 

Shannon Watts That’s right. We are larger and in many ways more powerful. I think lawmakers are now much more scared of angry moms than they are angry gun lobbyists. And that has taken many years. You know, this doesn’t happen overnight. I wish it did. I wish we all could have woken up, you know, the end of 2012 and lawmakers would have done the right thing and there would have been a wholesale change like we see in other high income countries. But our system is set up for incrementalism, as frustrating as that seems. And so you do have to commit to doing this work. What I call the heavy lifting of grassroots activism. You have to show up at every gun bail hearing. You have to create relationships with your lawmakers. You have to shame them when they do the wrong thing and applaud them when they do the right thing. And it takes several election cycles to get to where you need to be. And I do think that’s why, frankly, moms and women are so cut out for this work. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamSo you talk about the several election cycles it takes to get to where we need to be, and here we are in this moment and we keep hearing over and over again that this moment is different when it comes to gun politics, that this is, you know, an opportunity for real change. But we’ve heard this moment is different before. We heard it after Sandy Hook. We heard it after Parkland. We heard it after Las Vegas. Do you think this moment is actually different? 

Shannon Watts It has to be different. You know, it has been 25 years since our national leaders passed a federal gun safety law. That is 25 years of senseless shootings like in Boulder and Atlanta and countless others that never make the headlines. You know, when you look back in 1994, when the last significant piece of legislation was passed around this issue, you know, there were 50 percent fewer guns in the hands of civilians. The Internet was just beginning. You couldn’t buy a gun online. The leading cause of death among American kids and teens was actually car accidents. Today, it’s guns. And so, so much has changed. That means our laws have to change. And, you know, if you look at 2008, when President Obama was elected, about a quarter of all members of Congress had an A rating from the NRA. Today, absolutely none do. In fact, the last one lost his election in 2020. And on top of that, we have this grassroots army now that can go toe to toe with the gun lobby. And because the NRA is so weak right now — they’re bankrupt. They’re not the political force they used to be. We’re stronger than we’ve ever been. This is the time for a gun sense president, a gun sense Senate, and a gun sense House to act.  

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So what exactly are you calling for at this moment? If this is the time, what would you like to see happen? 

Shannon Watts Well, we don’t want any more thoughts and prayers without action, that hasn’t gotten us anywhere in 25 years. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Amen. 

Shannon Watts We need the Senate to act. The responsibility lies with the Senate. We will not rest until there is a vote on the legislation that has passed the House. My former fellow volunteer and now Congresswoman Lucy McBath has spearheaded some really important legislation, like background checks on every gun sale, like closing the Charleston loophole, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. And so Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has assured us that this legislation will get a vote and we can get senators on the record with those votes. They really don’t have anywhere to run and hide anymore, but we also need executive action. You know, there really isn’t a corner of the Biden administration or the Justice Department that can’t be doing something on this issue right now. 

Brittany Packnett CunninghamTo be clear, you’re not saying you want to ban all firearms. You are okay with responsible gun ownership. You just want some common sense legislation like background checks so that dangerous people don’t get easy access to guns. 

Shannon Watts That’s right. We are not opposed to the Second Amendment. Many Moms Demand Action volunteers are gun owners or their partners are gun owners. This is really just about restoring the responsibilities that should go along with gun rights that have been stripped away by the gun lobby. A background check on every gun sale. It’s bipartisan. It’s popular with the American people. The only place it’s polarizing is in the U.S. Senate. If you look at polling, 93 percent of voters support them. Background checks, 89 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of gun owners. This is something that has broad support. And we know because we can see the data where they’re passed in states that they save lives. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So you mentioned executive actions before, and I’d love to get a bit more specific. You know, President Biden has talked about not wanting to wait another minute to address gun violence, but he’s also calling on Congress to take action. You said that both of these things need to happen. What do you think he needs to do specifically? And do you think he’ll do it? 

Shannon Watts That’s exactly right. The administration should be working on executive actions as Congress works on legislation. There are three important things that can be done through executive action. So we need federal laws to require background checks. But in lieu of that or until that passes, executive actions can help strengthen the background check system. He can also use executive action to regulate the market for ghost guns, guns that are put together by untraceable parts. And then the third thing that he can do that’s incredibly important is to allocate funding for gun violence intervention programs. These programs are mostly in city centers. They’re very underfunded and they’ve been hurt badly by budget changes due to the covid crisis. Data shows they work and that they’re very important to reducing the amount of gun violence in city centers. And so that’s something also that the president can do through executive action. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So I also want to talk about all of the work that’s being done by Moms Demand and thousands of others at the state and local levels. We spent a lot of time necessarily having a federal conversation, but we also know that just days before the Boulder shooting, a judge there lifted the ban on assault weapons. So can you give us a brief overview of what’s happening at the state and local levels? Because it really just appears to a layperson like myself that gun policy is divided across red and blue states, just like it is on the national level. 

Shannon Watts Yeah, I get that question a lot because people think nothing has happened in the last eight and a half years because there hasn’t been this cathartic moment in Congress, which I do believe is coming. But when what was called Manchin-Toomey, it was a bill that would have closed the background check loophole. It failed just a few months after the Sandy Hook school shooting. When that didn’t pass, our volunteers pivoted and started doing this work in state houses and boardrooms, knowing that we could build momentum on the ground that would eventually point the right president and the right Congress in the right direction. And so much has been done in statehouses and boardrooms. You know, we’ve passed background checks in 22 states now. We passed red flag laws that allow a temporary restraining order to disarm someone who is a risk to themselves or others. We’ve passed that now in 19 states. We closed the Charleston loophole in 19 states. And in 29 states we have passed laws that keep guns away from domestic abusers. Those laws are lifesaving and they’re so incredibly important. But again, we’re all only as safe as a closed state with the weakest gun laws. And that’s why we need federal laws. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So you’re doing all of this work and we have these moments of public grief that you think would drive lawmakers to just get it done already. But Republicans in particular love to blame everything under the sun other than guns. So, you know, Ted Cruz, he even recently blamed gun laws for causing gun violence. But what do you say to those who argue that —  this is another one that often comes up — a problem of mental illness? Of course, mental health is an extremely important issue, but in this context, is it really just an ablest red herring? 

Shannon Watts Yes. And you know what’s really interesting to me about what Ted Cruz said, you know, he acts as though laws don’t work. He’s a lawmaker. When there was a hot air balloon accident in Texas that killed 16 people, Ted Cruz authored stronger safety legislation and helped pass it. So I guess if there was a hot air balloon lobbyist group, he wouldn’t have done that either, because the NRA is what helps keep him in power. There’s so many red herrings. Certainly we see mental illness pop up over and over again. I want to be clear about a couple of things. First of all, people who are mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. The other thing to remember is that we actually have the same rates of mental illness per capita as other high income countries. However, we have a 25 times higher gun homicide rate and the reason for that is plain and simple, easy access to guns. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So we are an intersectional feminist show. I think on the surface, people don’t necessarily think of gun violence prevention as a feminist issue, but it really is. Can you shed a little light on why? 

Shannon Watts Yeah, you know, you won’t be shocked to hear this, but research mostly done by men about men doesn’t give us a ton of insight. But we do know that 54 percent of mass shootings in this country, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner. So most mass shootings in this country are actually started by an incident of domestic violence and most mass shooters are men. And if you look at the history of violent attacks in this country, many of them are motivated by misogyny. You know, we all remember the UCSB shooting where the gunman left behind this manifesto detailing his sexual frustration, the horrific yoga studio shooting in Tallahassee where the gunman purposely shot six women and left behind YouTube videos talking about his misogynistic views and, you know, even the Capitol insurrection. Nearly a dozen of those people have histories of domestic violence. So it’s a true crisis in this country when you mix toxic masculinity and easy access to guns. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And gun violence is, of course, an issue that affects women from all walks of life. As you just shared, women in intimate partner abusive situations, women who live in fear of neighborhood violence, women who experience suicidality, not to mention the threat of gun violence affects women of color at even greater rates. 

Shannon Watts That’s exactly right. And, you know, that’s why I think in particular, we’ve been so saddened by what happened in Atlanta. You know, I mean, that was clearly, you know, people are saying — debating whether it’s a hate crime. I mean, it couldn’t be more clear that that was an attack motivated both by misogyny and by racism. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I know you’ve thought a lot about this because we’ve talked about it, but I’m curious to know how you make sure that you all’s strategy is really informed by and benefits communities of color, Black communities in particular. Given that Moms Demand is now a part of Everytown, which is largely funded by Mike Bloomberg, who has a questionable history with Black communities, shall we say? 

Shannon Watts Yeah. And, you know, I do want to be clear. We have about three hundred and fifty thousand donors that we receive the bulk of our funding now from because we’ve grown so exponentially. But look, I, I am a privileged white woman who started Moms Demand Action because I was afraid my kids weren’t safe in their schools. That’s what got me off the sidelines. Shame on me. I should have known that one hundred people were being shot and killed in this country every day. I should have acted sooner and same for all of the other white women and white Americans who’ve gotten involved after horrific mass shootings that make them afraid for their own family’s safety. But, you know, as I got involved and as I learned more, I mean, we have evolved so much as an organization on the issues. And a major priority for us is being an inclusive and equitable movement. And that requires a commitment to undo the systemic racism and inequities that are so pervasive. We work alongside other groups. We partner with them. We unlock funding. We fundraise for other groups that have been doing this work with little to no recognition for decades. And in fact, the woman who leads Moms Demand Action’s whole grassroots network is a Black woman named Angela Ferrell-Zabala, and she is from Planned Parenthood. She’s so talented and she’s really helped us to expand our grassroots leadership and to include more voices from communities that are so often underrepresented in the gun violence prevention movement. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So what can everyday people, our listeners in our UNDISTRACTED community, what can we do to make a difference? 

Shannon Watts So there are several things, first of all, commit to getting off the sidelines on this issue. The reason that we have such a crisis is because a vocal minority of gun extremists have been allowed to hold sway over our gun laws for so long. So please commit to knowing who your candidates are, to understanding where your lawmakers stand on this issue and holding them accountable. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It appears like now, as you said, is really the time to get this done. But I’ll be honest with you, I hate to get my hopes up because there have been so many disappointments in the past 12 months, let alone the past 12 plus years. As you’ve already shared, it has been an uphill battle. How optimistic are you feeling? Do you think we’re really going to see strong action on gun violence? 

Shannon Watts I do, you know, social issues often work this way, they take years, if not decades. And again, I understand the frustration we all have that there hasn’t been wholesale change. The system is frustratingly set up for incrementalism. That said, it is that incrementalism that turns into a revolution. You look at marriage equality and they spent years and decades on the ground doing this work and building support for their movement and eventually pointed the right president and the right Supreme Court in the right direction. And I don’t think this issue is any different. It’s been, you know, years I know, but it’s gotten to us to the place where we were able to flip the house in 2018, to flip both chambers of the General Assembly in Virginia in 2019, to win the presidency, the Senate, and the House again in 2020 and 2021. So I’m very optimistic. I wouldn’t wake up and work on this as a full time volunteer every single day for almost a decade if I didn’t think we were winning. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And here’s to winning. Shannon, thank you and the tens of thousands of moms, students, loved ones, family members who are putting in the work every single day through Moms Demand and so many other organizations. We appreciate you. And I do believe that we will win. 

Shannon Watts Thank you so much. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action. For more information or to get involved, you can go to To learn about the lawmakers where you live, you can go to And President Biden has just committed five billion dollars to fund community based safety solutions as part of his jobs plan. Fund Peace, which is a coalition of dozens of Black and brown led gun violence prevention groups, has been calling for this for a long time. For more information, you can check out 

Like Shannon said, this, this is a difficult time, but it’s also so important that we talk about this issue so as she says, people get off the sidelines and act. Moms along with activists and students and organizers across the country, have outnumbered and maybe even outpowered the NRA. If that’s not a crystal clear example of what we are capable of I don’t know what is. Ain’t no way it’s easy, but it has got to be worth it. I don’t want anyone sending their children to schools to learn active shooter drills, and I don’t want anyone going to sleep in their bed worried that a bullet might fly through the window. We’ve got to end this nightmare y’all. So every day let’s remind those who we elected that they work for us and that we want to live. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Taylor Hosking. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky.

You can follow me @MsPackyetti on all social media and our incredible team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and write and review us y’all, on Spotify, Apple Podcast or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. 

As always, thank you for listening. Thank you for being. Thank you for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.