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One Gun Control Group Tries To Seize The Moment Post-Parkland

Protester carries Moms Demand Action sign during March 24th March for our Lives in New York City. [shutterstock.com]

Shortly after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. a gun control bill mandating universal background checks on gun sales failed in Congress. In a press conference at the White House, President Obama lashed out at members of Congress.

“It came down to politics. The worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections. So they caved to the pressure,” said Obama.

Since then, a group campaigning in support of gun control has grown and branched out across the country.

The Cleveland chapter of that group -  Moms Demand Action - recently held a pair of Friday evening fundraisers on the east and west sides of Cleveland.

In Ohio, like at the federal level, the trend has been towards loosening gun laws for a while now. The federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004.

In 2008, the US Supreme Court struck down gun control measures in Washington, DC.

In Ohio, recent laws have allowed concealed carry in daycare centers, in bars and on college campuses.

The hope among the Moms Demand Action supporters gathered at the Lakewood fundraiser is that the trend is going to change.

“It seems that there is always an outpouring after a mass shooting,” said Sarah Edelman, who started volunteering for Moms Demand Action three years ago.

“But everyday people are killed by gun violence. It's an everyday thing so we have to keep going,” she said.

Since the Parkland shooting in February, where 17 people were killed at a Florida high school, there’s been a surge in advocacy for new gun control laws.

According to the Cleveland chapter’s lead organizer, Molly Crowe, about 1700 new volunteers have signed up in Ohio in the first three months of this year. That’s about twice as many as signed on all of last year, according to Crowe, allowing them to launch a campaign at local school boards against arming teachers in schools.

“I feel like that can simply expand and it is expanding. We have new chapters that are forming all over the state. We have a new chapter in Oberlin, in Youngstown/Warren area, in Canton, in Wooster,” said Crowe.

The group’s full name is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and at the local level it’s all volunteer.

It’s part of a New York City-based, national organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. Between 2014 and 2016, Everytown’s payroll grew from 130 employees to 221, mostly split between New York and Washington.  

The national organization sends a position and talking points on state legislation to local chapters. They award gun policy-based endorsements in state and federal elections.

That support from a sophisticated, well-funded group drew Crowe in 3 years ago.

“I feel like we’re really, we as an organization, we’re set up to kind of absorb this volume after Parkland,” said Crowe.

Across the country, there are local chapters lobbying state legislatures.

When governors in Rhode Island and Maryland, one Democrat and one Republican, signed off on new gun control measures this year, volunteers from Moms Demand Action were watching over their shoulders at the signing ceremonies.

In Ohio, Moms Demand Action faces an uphill battle.

Gun rights groups like Buckeye Firearms Association have long-established ties in the Ohio legislature.

Buckeye Firearms executive director Dean Rieck said this push for gun control will fade, like others before it.

“If you look at some of these groups like Moms Demand Action or Every Town - if you take away the politics, take away the money, there's nothing left,” said Rieck.

For now, they’re making their presence felt – showing up at hearings on gun bills, calling and meeting with legislators. State Senator John Eklund, a Republican from Northeast Ohio, said he’s been impressed with the way they’ve delivered their message so far.

“I’ve always found the Moms group to be as I say thoughtful and deliberate and not prone to extremism on one end or the other,” said Eklund.

Eklund is a sponsor of a red flag law, allowing law enforcement to take guns away from people labeled as dangerous by the courts.

There are also bills in front of the legislature establishing Stand Your Ground in Ohio and reducing the penalties for concealed carry infractions.

In a March Gallup survey, 13 percent of voters picked gun control as the most important issue facing the country – just a point less than the economy. Then, in April’s survey, two months out from Parkland, guns dropped back down to 6 percent.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.