Votes Against Gun Violence with Shannon Watts | Crooked Media
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October 11, 2021
What A Day
Votes Against Gun Violence with Shannon Watts

In This Episode

  • Guns were involved in three out of every four homicides in 2020, and 2021 is shaping up to be deadly, too. According to the Gun Violence Archive, from January 1st to September 15th of this year, more than 14,000 people died from gun violence in the U.S. Moms Demand Action founder, Shannon Watts, joined us to discuss Demand a Seat. It’s a program that recruits gun violence survivors and activists to run for elected office and become more engaged in our politics.
  • And in headlines: Texas’s restrictive anti-abortion law is back in effect, Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections, and Moderna has been supplying their shots almost exclusively to the world’s wealthiest countries.


Show Notes





Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Monday, October 11th, I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day on the newly designated national holiday of Indigenous Peoples Day.


Priyanka Aribindi: That is right. Where I’m recording in Illinois, I am on the ancestral homelands of many tribes, including those of the Council of Three of Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi.


Josie Duffy Rice: And here in Atlanta, I’m on the Native land of the Muscogee Creek Nation. So we just want to acknowledge those relationships and that history.


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, an appeals court reinstates Texas’s abortion ban just days after a federal judge temporarily blocked it. Plus, big boxes hire small ships ahead of the holidays to try and bypass a shipping backlog.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, we’re going to focus on people working to stop gun violence at the electoral level. In just the past few days, there have been a number of tragic events. Early yesterday morning, for example, more than a dozen people were injured and one woman died after a shooting at a bar in St. Paul, Minnesota. And last week, an 18-year old opened fire at a high school in Arlington, Texas. Four people were injured, with one of them, a 15-year-old, in critical condition.


Priyanka Aribindi: That is really awful. Never stops being awful news.


Josie Duffy Rice: Very devastating.


Priyanka Aribindi: According to FBI data released last month, guns were involved in three out of every four homicides in 2020, and 2021 is shaping up to be deadly as well. According to the Gun Violence Archive, from January 1st to September 15th of this year, more than 14,000 people died from gun violence in the U.S.. The organization says that some of the factors driving this violence include the economic and social toll of the pandemic, as well as a sharp increase in gun purchases.


Josie Duffy Rice: So to curb deaths, the group Moms Demand Action started a new initiative a few months ago. It’s called Demand a seat, and it’s a program that recruits gun violence survivors and activists to run for elected office and become more engaged in our politics. The plan is to train at least 200 activists to run during the 2022 election cycle. Several weeks ago, I talked with the group’s founder, Shannon Watts, about how she plans to educate and train volunteers to run for competitive positions.


Shannon Watts: Our volunteers are not new to elected office. You know, over a hundred have taken that step from advocate to candidate since we started as an organization. And the benefit of having a grassroots network is that they know how to change laws, they know how to change the culture, and they also know how to get people elected. And so in addition to offering training to volunteers about how to run for office, we’re in all 50 states, we have six million supporters, and it really is this built-in support network of people who know how to help. And so, you know, at the end of the day, they will, they will learn how to run a campaign. They’ll have the fundamentals of how to build a winning campaign. They’ll understand how to organize and build campaign teams. They’ll know more about budgeting and fundraising and messaging. You know, that’s half the battle right? Not, just deciding to run, but then having all these people that can help you win.


Josie Duffy Rice: So what do you think about gun violence and how to address it? What specific policy changes are you focused on?


Shannon Watts: Laws that we are looking at are low-hanging fruit. They’re very obvious. They’re widely supported, and they’re shown to save lives in the states that have them. So, for example, background checks: right now in America, only 21 states require a background check on every single gun sale. That’s because there is a federal level loophole that says you only have to require a background check if you’re a licensed dealer. Unlicensed dealers do not, and that means people at gun shows or someone you meet on the internet, even garage sales in some states. That means that we have to go state by state until we have a president and a Congress that is willing to pass this legislation at a federal level.


Josie Duffy Rice: So I think traditionally in America, advocacy work around gun violence has often relied on increased criminalization, right? Increasing criminal penalties for gun possession and illegal gun possession. And often, you know, disproportionately Black and brown and poor communities have paid the price for that. So I mean, I grew up in Georgia, I know who has guns in the city and where they get them, and I know who goes to prison for gun possession. And as our country kind of grapples with its mass incarceration crisis, how do you think about how we address gun violence without relying on more criminalization?


Shannon Watts: Simply require, for example, a background check on every gun sale. We know that gun violence disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities, in part because of the laws in red states that are so weak, right? So people often bring up the city of Chicago and gun violence being so bad there despite Illinois having pretty decent gun laws. Well, the reason is because Indiana has such incredibly lax gun laws. And what happens is, if you are a gun trafficker, you simply drive 20 minutes over the border, fill up your vehicle with guns, come back and sell them to people who shouldn’t have them. And so the communities that we work in and support, support background checks and red flag laws on the other things that we’re talking about. The other thing we do as an organization is unlock funding for gun violence intervention and interruption programs. These programs are shown by data to work. And then preventing that gun violence from happening in the first place by repairing a relationship or by finding resources that can help someone who is in distress. And so we have unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars for these programs in just the last couple of years. And the other thing that we do as an organization is support police reform and accountability bills. And nearly 20 states have passed those laws in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.


Josie Duffy Rice: What about gun manufacturers? Is there work that you do around the actual manufacturers of these guns, and what is the future of thinking about their responsibility for the crisis that we’re facing?


Shannon Watts: Well, gun manufacturers learned a lot from other special interests, so they looked at the tobacco industry, they looked at the alcohol industry. What they realized was if they wanted to maintain their power and wealth, what they needed to do was make sure they could never be sued. And they did that. There’s a law called PLCAA, which gives them immunity. They’re the only manufacturing industry in the whole country that has immunity from being sued. And it was a really smart thing to do because it makes it very difficult to hold them accountable for selling guns with impunity to people who shouldn’t have them, marketing them for things they cannot fix. The families who were impacted by the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy have gotten together, and some of them have sued gun manufacturers. And what they’re trying to do is find loopholes in PLCAA so that they can expose some of the misdeeds of the manufacturers. But they’re a pretty powerful special interests they have the NRA as their front, they funnel tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars into the NRA and other gun lobby organizations, and they’ve enjoyed a really long run of power/ that is certainly dwindling. I mean, if you’re keeping track of what’s happening to the NRA, they’re under investigation on many different fronts. They’re hemorrhaging dollars because of the lawsuits against them. They’re clearly not behaving like a nonprofit. I believe, you know, they are weaker than they’ve ever been, therefore, so are gun manufacturers. And our movement is stronger than it’s ever been. We’re larger than the NRA. We’ve outspent them in several election cycles. So other special interests have sort of gone the way of the dinosaur, and I’m hopeful that the NRA will, too.


Josie Duffy Rice: So speaking of the NHRA, when President Biden was the Democratic nominee, he said, quote, “If I’m elected, NRA, I’m coming for you.” So how can the president really put his money where his mouth is on this? And what else are states doing, like what we’re seeing in New York, to hold the NRA accountable?


Shannon Watts: The Biden-Harris administration has proven to be the strongest on gun safety in a generation. They really have taken a comprehensive approach to going to the root causes of gun violence. They have used every tool at their disposal, including executive actions to crack down on illegal trafficking and bad actors, to go after ghost guns, they are making unprecedented investments in violence intervention programs and community policing. There is only so much, though, that the president can do without the help of Congress. And as you know, we have an incredibly slim majority in the Senate, and it’s very difficult to pass laws, unfortunately, on any issue in this country right now. And so really, this is full circle back to our original discussion. It’s exactly why Demand a Sat is so important, right? Because elections do have consequences. And when we send gun sense champion’s office, we make progress. I would use Virginia as the example. In 2019, our volunteers helped flip both chambers of the General Assembly there, and we have since seen the governor signed nearly 10 good gun safety laws. And this is a state that I never would have imagined would have signed these laws if you’d asked me, you know, a decade ago. Virginia has made huge changes, and that’s in large part because of grassroots work there. So it can’t happen. I know that it will happen, but it really is up to all of us to get off the sidelines and hold every lawmaker accountable.


Josie Duffy Rice: That was Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, who we spoke to a few weeks ago about her new initiative Demand a Seat.


Priyanka Aribindi: If you want to learn more, we will have a link to their sites in our show notes. That’s latest for now. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s been a week of whiplash for Texas’s restrictive anti-choice law, SB-8. The law is back in effect after the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated enforcement of the measure last Friday. Just days before, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law. SB-8 bans abortions after six weeks of gestation, although most people don’t realize they’re pregnant before six weeks. Since SB-8 first went into effect, many providers in Texas have either shut down or severely limited their abortion services for fear of litigation. The Justice Department has until tomorrow to reply to this latest ruling. And after the law was reinstated, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Nancy Northup, said in a statement that quote “The Supreme Court needs to step in and stop this madness.” On December 1st, the High Court is expected to consider an equally controversial Mississippi law that also restricts abortion access. But as we said before on this show, it’s a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, and there is a 6-3 conservative majority on this court.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s really not looking good, right? If you care about reproductive rights. I’m not excited to see what happens with this Mississippi law.


Priyanka Aribindi: No.


Josie Duffy Rice: Iraqis took to the polls yesterday for parliamentary elections, but widespread boycotts and general pessimism about the integrity of the vote led to the lowest turnout in the country’s history. At stake is who will control the government, as well as if current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi may walk away with a second term. However, many Iraqis say they lost faith in the government. In late 2019, tens of thousands of young activists organized months-long protests against corruption. In response to security forces launched a fierce crackdown and killed more than 600 people. As a result, most people stayed home during yesterday’s vote. By midday Sunday, the country’s electoral commission said only 20% of people had cast a ballot. Results could come as early as today, but the negotiations on the next government and prime minister could take weeks or months.


Priyanka Aribindi: That sounds like an incredibly scary situation. I understand why people are staying home.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely.


Priyanka Aribindi: The world’s most effective COVID vaccine has also become the world’s most elitist. New York Times reporting revealed that vaccine maker Moderna has been supplying their shots almost exclusively to the world’s wealthiest countries. They have raked in billions of dollars in profits while keeping people in poorer and even middle-income countries waiting to receive any doses. In at least three cases, they’ve struck deals with middle-income countries at higher rates than what they’ve charged the U.S. or the EU. Only one million doses of Moderna’s COVID vaccine have currently gone to low-income countries, compared to 8.4 million Pfizer doses and 25 million J&J shots. The COVID vaccine, which is Moderna’s only product, was developed after the company got significant financial and scientific support from the U.S. government, which is now not so happy with how the company has chosen to focus entirely on their bottom line while the world continues to suffer. In an interview last week, Moderna’s CEO responded to the fact that their vaccine hasn’t reached people in these places, saying quote, “It is sad”. And you know what? It is incredibly sad that this pandemic has been a moneymaking opportunity of a lifetime for so many people, while so many others continue to suffer.


Josie Duffy Rice: It is very true. And you know what, Priyanka I feel like, you know, the J&J vaccine hive, they’re really winning out.


Priyanka Aribindi: J&J is the vaccine of the people, we were saying.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s truly undeniable. So everybody and J&J hive—


Priyanka Aribindi: Rest easy.


Josie Duffy Rice: You guys, you guys come out up on top. Yeah. Following a face-off with global supply chain delays that looked them dead in the eyes and said, “I am the captain now,” large U.S. retailers are chartering their own ships to transport inventory from Asia. The approach is nearly twice as expensive as securing space on major cargo liners, so it’s not viable for small businesses. For now, it’s being employed by the likes of Walmart, Home Depot and Target. The stores that, like hard-shelled bugs, will survive any worldwide crisis event. There are clear benefits to private ships as West Coast ports grow more and more backlogged. It’s now taking 80 days to move goods across the Pacific, which is twice the pre-pandemic rate. And with the holiday season creeping closer, retailers have an incentive to get certain products onto shelves as soon as possible. Smaller chartered ships can bypass the congested ports in L.A. and Long Beach and go to Portland, Oregon, Oakland, California or the East Coast instead. If your Christmas gifts don’t make it, though, you can still blame the Suez Canal. You know, I’m just thinking we got to like, let Christmas go this year.


Priyanka Aribindi: No, you said, you said it best, if you’re over like what, seven years?


Josie Duffy Rice: If you’re over seven years old, you just don’t need presents this year, OK, just like, enjoy, you know, the spirit of Christmas.


Priyanka Aribindi: Exactly.


Josie Duffy Rice: Make you friends a card. Get over it.


Priyanka Aribindi: Have a cookie. Do the whole thing. Listen to Christmas carols. Get your present in February. We’ll all be fine. We’ll all be fine. Those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: Those are the headlines. We will be around to talk about our holiday curmudgeon selves at any point in the next few months.


Priyanka Aribindi: At any point you all want. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, charter a small cargo ship, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And in if you’re into reading, and not just the top 10 quotes from the movie Captain Phillips, including “I am the captain now” like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I feel like that’s the only memorable quote from that movie, but it really does its job. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[together[ And open up your heart, Moderna!


Priyanka Aribindi: Moderna needs to get in the Christmas spirit, all right?


Josie Duffy Rice: Seriously.


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s maybe a message of this podcast.


Josie Duffy Rice: It is honestly true. The only people that need to celebrate Christmas this year are Moderna.


Priyanka Aribindi: I will forego any holiday gifts if they just, you know, get some vaccines to the people who need them.


Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. I’m with you.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and Me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.