I recently received an invitation from my local public school district to attend a “safety forum.” It wasn’t going to cover the variety of health-and-safety issues relevant to kids today—opioid abuse, underage drinking, reckless driving, online bullying, physical violence and sexual assault or harassment. Instead, the entire safety forum would focus on one issue: guns.
Speakers were to include a representative from the national PTA, the district’s superintendent, a school-safety officer, a mental-health specialist, the city’s police chief and an “early childhood advocate” and Be SMART program representative who would speak about gun safety and storage.
To most parents in my neighborhood, this forum looked pretty innocuous—just another routine school event that few would attend. But I knew it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill meeting. This promised to be pure political advocacy meant to push the anti-firearms narrative and scare parents about those in the community who own and store guns in their homes.
I knew this because I was well aware that the friendly sounding Be SMART organization was an appendage of Moms Demand Action and Everytown For Gun Safety—the two leading radical anti-gun advocacy groups in the United States, all funded by former New York Mayor, failed presidential candidate and hater of individuals’ choice to consume sugar or salt, Michael Bloomberg.
This Isn’t Gun Country
Before I tell you what happened at the forum (Spoiler: It was indeed designed to scare parents and identify and alienate gun owners.), here’s a little background on my neighborhood in Alexandria, Va. Don’t be fooled by the word “Virginia.” I live in a city where being a gun owner isn’t something most are willing to admit. As a conservative, a Trump voter, a gun owner and passionate Second Amendment defender, at times, I feel like I don’t quite belong.
I don’t want to sound too harsh about my neighbors. Some tolerate us. Some are even friendly. Yet, even the friendly ones tend to speak to us with a barely concealed level of condescension.
I Have Questions
So, it makes sense that none of my neighbors complained about the narrowness of the “safety forum” or questioned the appropriateness of a public school and non-profit hosting a political advocacy organization on school grounds. From a tax status perspective, that’s dangerous territory. But no one seemed concerned.
Well, no one except me.
Days before the meeting, I called the head of the city’s PTA. Katie was cordial, even eager, at first, though somewhat surprised to hear my concerns. Who doesn’t like safety?, she probably thought. Yet, when I explained that Be SMART is a part of Moms Demand Action—an advocacy organization—she went quiet, became tense and suddenly seemed in a rush to hang up.
“It isn’t Moms Demand Action. It isn’t even connected!” she huffed.
I offered to send her the link to the Be SMART website, which boldly features a picture of the Moms Demand and Everytown logos and actually states it is a part of those organizations and is funded by them.
But Katie wasn’t interested. She explained the Be SMART representative would simply provide parents instructions on how to properly store and use guns and to keep guns away from kids. I asked her why this information couldn’t be provided by a neutral source—like a police officer. She had no answer.
Trying to stay cordial, I ended the call by suggesting the speaker should acknowledge Be SMART’s affiliation, adding, “Parents deserve to know the truth.”
When I arrived at the middle school hosting the forum a few days later, I was greeted by cheerful, smiling Moms Demand Action volunteers who excitedly offered me various “fact” sheets and other pamphlets. A table across the room was piled high with gun locks—a generic type that doesn’t work on all gun models. That rather important safety fact wasn’t mentioned to the parents looking at them. Instead, they were encouraged to take one, like they were keychains or fridge magnets.
The large auditorium wasn’t full. Maybe 50-60 parents—mostly moms, a few dads—sat in the theater seats chatting about the weather and the World Series (the hometown team was playing). Finally, Katie, the PTA president I spoke to days earlier, approached the podium and thanked the city’s public schools for supporting the event.
She then introduced the Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent, who passed up the opportunity to reassure parents by telling them that school shootings and gun violence are extremely rare and that students are safer today than they were in the 90s—data that is easy to search online. Instead, he provided the sort of bromides one expects from a politician, saying it is “too bad we have to have these kinds of conversations” and that “we all want kids to be safe.” He concluded by patting himself on the back for being willing to listen to the concerns of parents (which is actually his job).
The “Be Smart” Program
Eventually, it was time for the Be SMART presentation. I was pleased that Susan, the child advocate and Be SMART representative, started off by disclosing that Be SMART was indeed started by Moms Demand Action (hear that, Katie?), but then added that Moms Demand Action created Be SMART “in conjunction with the National Sports Shooting Foundation.”
That comment was curious for several reasons. First, Susan got the name of the NSSF wrong. The correct name is the “National Shooting Sports Foundation” (NSSF). Perhaps it was just nerves, but that’s also exactly the sort of mistake someone makes when they really don’t know much about an organization and don’t say its name often. Second, the NSSF is the industry trade group for the firearms industry. Why in the world would they partner with an anti-Second Amendment organization?
Turns out, my skepticism was correct. I later reached out to the NSSF’s director of public affairs, Mark Oliva, who assured me Susan’s claim was “bogus” and that the NSSF doesn’t partner with any of these organizations—Moms Demand, Everytown or Be SMART. Oliva also explained no one from Be SMART reached out to anyone in NSSF’s D.C. office or at its Connecticut headquarters.
Susan had a reason to fabricate this alliance in appealing to this audience. She wanted to appear even-handed and reasonable, and claiming to being supported by the NSSF helped her achieve that goal. It was also designed to make the few gun owners and the law-enforcement representatives in the room feel better about being there.
Perhaps what Susan meant to say is that the Be SMART program’s educational curriculum is lifted almost entirely from existing youth gun-safety programs, such as the NSSF’s Project ChildSafe program, the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program and the NRA’s rules of gun safety.
Know Where the Gun Owners Live
Beyond the NSSF comment, I didn’t quibble with the early portion of Susan’s presentation. Everyone should learn proper gun use and storage. And Susan had avoided talking about legislation, gun bans, walkouts, protests or petitions, which is a hallmark of the usual Moms Demand Action presentations. But my approval didn’t last long. Moments later, Susan said, “We don’t know where the guns are in Alexandria … but what we can do—we can start asking people about how they store their guns.”
In other words, you can start asking people if they own guns in order to avoid those homes and families.
And then things got even weirder. To help moms in the audience get a sense of just how to approach these topics with other parents, Susan engaged in a little role-play, pretending to have a conversation with another mom about her kid’s specific needs: He has a food allergy and can’t have gluten and he’s scared of big dogs, oh, and, “how do you store your guns?” If a conversation is too awkward, Susan suggested texting.
Then, Susan told the audience to turn to the person next to them to practice asking the question. Luckily, I was sitting with a friend, so I didn’t have to engage in the concerned-mommy cosplay, but I did watch the mostly female audience do as they were told—giggling as they tried to nonchalantly ask the parent sitting next to them if they own guns.
No one took it seriously. I could see heads rolling back in laughter, wide smiles, clapping in feigned approval. I wasn’t laughing. It all made me nervous. It didn’t seem to be just about encouraging parents to be proactive in making sure their kids are safe. It seemed to be about “outing” gun owners.
Identifying and tracking gun owners is the goal of many anti-gun activists. Anti-gun politicians have proudly stated their desire to confiscate guns, and many lawmakers and presidential candidates have praised New Zealand’s mandatory buy-back program that took place after the Christchurch shootings. And here in Virginia, newly elected legislators worked feverishly this session to limit gun ownership.
As for the moms in the room, they all knew the role-play activity was silly, and I suspect most knew that in this city, where few would admit to owning guns, they wouldn’t ever ask these awkward questions. But the exercise achieved its goal: It was a PTA mean-girl moment. If you want to hang out with us, if you want my kid to play with your kid and, most importantly, if you want to avoid being outed as an unacceptable person—a gun owner—in our neighborhood, you’ll get rid of your guns.
Shame, fear of isolation and being ostracized are incredibly powerful anxieties for parents. Moms in particular worry about their children being accepted and hope they gain a solid group of friends. Moms Demand Action knows how to tap into these feelings by delivering a warning to moms: Conform or be excommunicated.
Shaming Gun Owners and Pressure to Conform
I’ve experienced this feeling of isolation when one of my children was the target of bullying because of my work defending the Second Amendment. After a particularly intense Moms Demand Action mother in my neighborhood saw me on a national news program denouncing the 2018 March for Our Lives walkouts around the country (including one at my children’s school), she instructed her child to exclude my child from group activities (they are in the same grade and classroom). The kid made his mom proud, going a step further to taunt my son and call him names. This mom also spread rumors and tried to sully my reputation with other moms. I know all this because she admitted her strategy to another mom in the neighborhood, who was kind enough to warn me.
It was painful for my son, who didn’t understand this boy’s sudden change. It was also hard for me to watch this unfold and to have few remedies to make the situation better.
But the experience put into sharp relief just how far some Moms Demand Action parents are willing to go and how they tend to dehumanize those they disagree with on the issue—even children.
Gun Safety, Without the Shame, Is Important
Days after the forum, I was still thinking about it. Rolling it around in my head, reviewing my notes from the meeting and trying to get a handle on what I’d seen and heard. I like to think Susan was well-intentioned and really believes her mission is to educate parents and kids about safe-gun practices. I suspect Susan doesn’t fully understand the underlying motivations behind Be SMART, which is to identify and shame gun owners.
I’m also certain that most gun owners would fully support Susan’s message that parents should be aware of where and with whom one’s children are playing—if that was truly the intended message. Knowing the parents of your children’s friends is an important part of integrating into a community. And as a gun owner, I don’t mind if a mom asks these questions. I understand how people might be worried about kids finding a gun in a home that isn’t their own. Kids are curious. Hide and seek means opening closets and cabinets to find hiding places. And we all know people make mistakes.
I share Susan’s concerns about what my kids could be exposed to when they aren’t home—like movies that contain adult content. I worry they’ll be exposed to pornography or that they’ll play extreme and violent video games. You really are at the mercy of other parents when you allow your children the freedom to visit others’ homes. It makes sense that some parents might want to ask certain questions to ensure the home is a safe place and that the parents share a certain parenting philosophy or standards of what a child can be exposed to.
But Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety has a different mission: To rid America of all guns and to change the culture in America so that gun owners are marginalized, ostracized and eventually criminalized.
Gun owners should be disturbed that groups like Moms Demand are using a safety program to name-and-shame those who privately and legally own firearms. And moms should be disgusted that they’re being used for these purposes. (Julie Gunlock is a mom of three and works at the Independent Women’s Forum.)
America Needs the NRA’s National School Shield Program
Horrific experiences have shown that simply putting up “gun-free zone” signs and preventing law-abiding people from carrying concealed only means that any armed sociopath who does decide to go to a school will be the only one there with a gun until the police respond. That’s a poor but, unfortunately, common strategy.
Instead, we need top-security experts to work with school officials to create the safest environments possible for America’s approximately 55 million elementary and secondary school students. This is why, in 2012, the NRA created the National School Shield Program (NSS) to help schools create and maintain good security plans. The NRA’s NSS recognizes there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It provides expertise in many areas of school security by evaluating schools and providing options to mitigate potential vulnerabilities to make them more secure. The NSS program’s security experts also educate community, law enforcement and school leaders.
The NSS Task Force is now a team of recognized experts in homeland security, law-enforcement training and school safety who help schools create and implement real security plans.
To do this the NSS seeks to facilitate a partnership between schools and local stakeholders by teaching them how to analyze a school’s physical security, communications systems and overall preparedness. At the conclusion of its training, participants are adequately primed to conduct vulnerability assessments that assist their schools in recognizing existing strengths as well as potential vulnerabilities.
One option to enhance school security is to bring in a school-resource officer from a local sheriff office or police department who is properly trained to assess students, who can work with school officials and who is trained to respond to threats.
This is important as, despite the mainstream media’s narrative on this issue, attacks on students in schools are not just a recent phenomenon. The first recorded attack on a school in North America occurred on July 26, 1764, when four men (Delaware American Indians during Pontiacs War) entered a one-room schoolhouse and killed the schoolmaster and 10 children. The most-deadly attack on a school occurred in 1927 in Bath, Mich., when a trustee from a local school board detonated 600 pounds of dynamite he placed inside Bath Consolidated School. In the end, this murderer killed 45 people, including 38 elementary school children and his wife.
Though this is an old problem, there are new solutions. Schools across the nation vary greatly based on size, geography, student composition, building design, potential threats and a variety of other factors, all of which dictate the need for individualized and tailor-made security plans adapted to the uniqueness of the particular school.
This is why NSS uses an all-hazards approach that reinforces uniquely tailored emergency response plans for individual campuses. For more information about the National School Shield program, including more information about the Security Assessor Training, please got to nationalschoolshield.org.