Last week, I had the honor of witnessing history unfold as I stood in the East Room of the White House with fellow gun violence prevention advocates and gun violence survivors as President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce gun violence in America.
This move by the president signified the first real and meaningful action on gun violence at the federal level since Congress failed to pass life-saving background checks legislation in the wake of the devastating mass shooting at Sandy Hook School three years ago. Unbelievably, after 26 students and educators -- including 20 first-graders -- were murdered in the sanctity of an American elementary school; Congress did nothing.
But American mothers did something. We organized. And now, as part of Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has more than 3.5 million members and a chapter in every state. And we've spent the last three years creating change in statehouses and boardrooms, and asking the President to do everything in his power address America's gun violence crisis.
We asked, and last week, the president answered.
He can't make laws -- only Congress can do that -- but in light of their inaction, he clarified the law and provided resources to make sure those laws are enforced.
Last week, I also attended the President's Guns in America town hall on CNN. There, another significant moment took place -- one that is getting less attention. President Obama joined millions of moms and other Americans by pledging to be a single-issue gun sense voter in 2016. He reinforced this pledge in an op-ed to the New York Times:
I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.
Why is this so significant? Because the gun lobby has decades of legislative experience and political activity under its belt -- and its grip on Congress and many statehouses is as tight as ever.
The National Rifle Association leadership has successfully created and mobilized a passionate voter base that will support any NRA-endorsed candidate when called upon, no matter their position on other important issues. This despite the fact that most NRA members are responsible gun owners who support common-sense legislation such as requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales.
The only thing that will loosen the NRA's grip on Congress and state capitols are leaders who are unafraid to act in the interest of public safety and support stronger gun laws. Our most powerful weapon is to create a voting base of even greater size and influence that will vote on a single issue: gun sense.
Even though the gun lobby has a decades-long head start, during the 2014 midterms we gathered more than a million pledges from Americans across the country as part of our Gun Sense Voter program to vote only for candidates who support strengthening our gun laws. And because the vast majority of Americans agree with commonsense measures to reduce gun violence -- like universal background checks -- we know we have the upper hand.
In fact, this past November, a little-known candidate for Virginia state senate -- Jeremy McPike -- pulled out a victory over an NRA-endorsed candidate, right in the gun lobby's backyard. The best part: He ran on a gun sense platform. Three years ago, a victory like this would have been completely out of reach. But with a grassroots movement of moms, survivors and supporters who are just as passionate about preventing gun violence as our opponents are about preserving gun rights, more victories like this are imminent.
We see this change among presidential candidates too. In 2008, not a single presidential candidate wanted to discuss guns on the campaign trail. Flash forward to now and some of the presidential hopefuls are arguing among themselves about who is the strongest on gun safety. And because our movement finally has boots on the ground, our Moms members will be showing up at rallies and town halls - for Democrats and Republicans alike -- between now and November to ensure that gun sense stays at the top of candidates' agendas.
As a mom of five, I have a hard time focusing on issues like the economy and education and healthcare when I'm not sure my high school freshman will make it home safely from school. Until we fix that, I'm a single-issue, gun sense voter. And no candidate -- regardless of their party -- will get my vote unless they're committed to gun safety.
On behalf of Moms Demand Action and our supporters, I welcome President Obama to the single-issue, gun sense voter club.
President Obama did one other thing this week. He said that one seat in the First Lady's State of the Union guest box will be left empty on Tuesday. It's a seat for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice -- for their families.
This week, the Everytown Survivor Network is leading an effort to show the faces of gun violence. Survivors will be sharing photos of their loved ones who were killed by gun violence on social media -- the people for whom they are leaving an #EmptySeat.
All of them need us to raise our voices on their behalf. In 2016 and for years to come, we will join the president as single-issue voters voting for them.