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Gun Safety Advocates Prepare For Uphill Battle In Trump Era

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For some reaction to the president's address to the NRA from the other side, we're joined by Shannon Watts. She's founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She's in Atlanta now to protest. Welcome to the program.

SHANNON WATTS: Thank you.

CORNISH: So President Trump said there - an eight-year assault on Second Amendment freedoms have come to a crashing end. What's your response when you heard that?

WATTS: Well, there is in no way been an assault on the Second Amendment in this country. No one is trying to ban private gun ownership. In fact, gun sales over the last eight years were pretty explosive. And a lot of what was said today was erroneous. But I thought what was very interesting was that Donald Trump steered away from some of the NRA's most controversial positions and some of the legislation they're actively working on right now.

CORNISH: We know a couple of things on the wish list, so to speak - the reciprocity for conceal and carry laws so that permits can be recognized between states. We know rules around guns silencers are a focus for the NRA, as well. What are you going to try to focus on as a result?

WATTS: At a federal level, we're preparing to play defense against bad bills like concealed carry reciprocity, making silencers more available. But we are continuing to work at a state level to kill bad bills and to support good bills. And we're having huge success with that, even post-election. Not much has changed at the state level.

CORNISH: You've made gains in states like California, where the governor signed some gun restrictions into law. But in that state, there are something like half a dozen lawsuits challenging those same laws. So will your next battles, essentially, be in court?

WATTS: What we have found is that when lawmakers don't do the right thing to protect constituents, often the courts step in, and they are doing the right thing. And we've seen that in states like Florida - twice this year already - and in Massachusetts. And yes, I do think that this is also going to be a legal issue and that we fully expect that we will have to do battle with the NRA in states maybe even all the way up to the Supreme Court. And we are prepared to do that. This is really a turning point in this country with a president that is beholden to the NRA. And everyone needs to get off the sidelines now. This is the time to fight.

CORNISH: Under President Obama, there wasn't a lot of federal legislation. Gun sales actually soared. Since the most recent election - since the election of Donald Trump, what has been the state of your group and others like it? Have you seen any kind of bump?

WATTS: Yeah, we - you know, we have. And I'll be honest, every time there's an inflection point - and it started way back when - right after the Sandy Hook shooting, Congress failed to pass background checks. And there have been several inflection points since. And the election was one of those.

You know, I thought to myself, OK, what will happen to this issue? What will happen to this movement? And every time there's been an inflection point, what we have seen is a huge influx of donors and of volunteers. In fact, three years ago, we had 4,500 active volunteers with Moms Demand Action. Post-election, we now have nearly 50,000 active volunteers.

And, you know, last year, we were able to defeat 15 out of 15 guns in schools bills and 17 out of 18 guns on campus bills. And so when people get together, and they show up at statehouses, and they sit there in their red Moms Demand Action T-shirts and say, not in my community you won't, it works just like it's worked for the NRA for decades.

CORNISH: Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Thank you for speaking with us.

WATTS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.