The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

Ending Gun Violence: Moms Demand Action and Student Advocacy

Chapter founder Gwen Loosmore (right) and Representative Tana Senn (left). Graphic by Paelun Bissonnette.
Chapter founder Gwen Loosmore (right) and Representative Tana Senn (left). Graphic by Paelun Bissonnette.

Moms Demand Action has recently opened a new chapter in the local Mercer Island area, headed by Gwen Loosmore. The group aims to advocate for legislative solutions to gun violence and educate the local community on safe gun use.

“I’ve lived here for 12 years and have had a few children go through MISD, though I grew up in Bellevue,” Loosmore said. “I’m helping to start a Moms Demand Action group here on the Island so that Islanders of all ages can—or even people from Bellevue or the surrounding area—join with us to help educate our community about what we can do to prevent gun violence.”

Having been involved previously with the Parent Teacher Association’s legislative advocacy, Loosmore began to recognize the need for a local advocacy group that focuses on the growing problem of gun violence. “Moms Demand Action is a nationwide organization with around 10 million volunteers between various local chapters,” Loosmore said. “There are gun owners, non-gun owners, students, moms, dads, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, everybody coming together to work to prevent gun violence and stop the deaths.”

When looking at the data surrounding the issue, the information can be somewhat alarming. “We’re seeing homicides rise in King County; you can see that they have risen in 2023 from where they were in 2022,” Loosmore said. “What you can see is that this kind of violence is disproportionately affecting people of color, specifically men of color which is leaving behind a population of women and children unsupported.”

While most attention related to firearms is on murders, an important and oft-forgotten dimension of the problem is suicide. “In addition, over half of all gun deaths are suicides,” Loosmore said. “We’re losing about 150 young people a year from firearm-related suicides.”

Washington has a reputation as a liberal state, which people might assume automatically solves the issue. “There’s this perception that Washington is a blue state so we shouldn’t be having this kind of a problem, but the reality is that we’re really more of a purple state,” Loosmore said. “Yes, we’re socially liberal on certain issues, but we also want to leave people alone and let them do their own thing. We have a lot of people who own guns, and that rate only went up during COVID-19, even on the Island. But we don’t have a lot of oversight, we don’t know the exact numbers of guns in our state, we don’t know if they’re being kept safely.”

That said, Loosmore admits that Washington has come a long way, and is already far superior on gun issues than much of the United States. “How does Washington stack up compared to other states?” Loosmore said. “Well, I think we’re actually doing fairly well as far as recommended legislation goes, although I’ve heard some conjecture that we might not be enforcing this legislation properly. Overall, we could look at Washington State and compare it to other states and say, ‘Well, maybe it’s not that bad,’ but we have to understand that even in Washington, the cost of irresponsible gun policy is simply too many people. We still lose one person to gun violence every 12 hours.”

When you listen to Loosmore talk about gun violence issues, you will almost never hear the phrase “gun control.” That’s because Loosmore views much of her group’s mission as being rooted in changing the perception of advocacy. “It used to be that people who were against gun violence were tarred as being crazy fringe anti-constitutionalists, and part of the idea of saying ‘we are moms’ is just to really normalize in our culture that we are normal people like the rest of you trying to step in and say we’re not powerless to stop gun violence,” Loosmore said. “We’re not trying to get rid of every gun or push some agenda, we just need to recognize that people are dying.”

One of the current focuses of the group is helping to inform people about safe firearm storage.

“Every gun which is stored safely is one that can’t be borrowed or stolen for a suicide or a murder,” Loosmore said. “Because the simplest thing you can do to prevent suicide is just have those things locked up. Suicide is often an impulsive act, so if people have to spend time trying to find it and they have time to calm down, then people get to live.”

To Loosmore, a key component of promoting safe gun storage is to remodel our culture around firearms in general. “The more we can educate people on how easy it is to get gun locks and store their firearms, the safer we can make our communities,” Loosmore said. “If we can normalize these conversations, we can maybe encourage gun owners to store their weapons safely. If someone is coming on a playdate to my house, you probably need to know that I have peanuts and peanut materials, that I have dogs and cats, these are things that the parent might care about. Asking about firearms should be no different.”

A barrier to firearm storage can often be a lack of knowledge, so part of Loosmore’s mission is to alert people to the existence of educational material. “If people want to learn more about safe storage, they can order free gun locks from the police, and the Be Smart and Lock It Up websites have a lot of information on best practices,” Loosmore said.

Moms Demand Action has recently helped to push for reforms such as requiring schools to provide information on their website pertaining to safe gun storage, and the state’s recent ban on high capacity weapons. But things are not always smooth sailing, and Loosmore believes strongly in the power that student activism can have on these kinds of issues. “The more of us that are speaking out, and the more that students get inspired and are inspiring others the more change we’re going to see,” Loosmore said. “I mean, if we just look at a few years ago, I was told there’s no way we’re going to get an assault weapons ban, and now we have an assault weapons ban in Washington State. Everything seems impossible until it’s not.”

Moms Demand Action hopes to work with students and the community to develop the voices of those who want support in speaking out and effecting change. “I want students to understand that getting registered to vote matters, that talking to their legislators matters a lot, and that even just talking with other students and developing your voice can make a real difference,” Loosmore said. “So if there was a student group that wanted to join us, or if anyone wanted to start a Students Demand Action, that could be very powerful. We have plenty of volunteer opportunities open to anyone in the community, such as handing out flyers at the Farmers Market booth or helping out with our social media campaigns.”

Far from a burden, Loosmore thinks volunteering with Moms Demand Action, or any other local advocacy group, can be an incredibly positive opportunity for students. “You’re going to fill out these college applications that ask where you showed leadership or initiative, they’re going to ask you all these questions,” Loosmore said. “This kind of work is definitely college resume material, it shows you have leadership, it shows you’re engaged, and if there’s one thing that schools want, it is for their students to be engaged. Beyond that, you get to meet other people who really care, and sometimes that can be really important.”

To her, the future of the gun violence prevention movement is bright, as more and more people have begun to agree that change is needed, and our government has started to reflect that. “While I will not make an endorsement as a representative of Moms Demand Action or the PTA, I will say personally that Bob Ferguson, who is our current Attorney General and who is going to be running for the governorship this fall, has been a gun sense champion in that a number of the gun violence bills that have come forward originated by request of his office,” Loosmore said. “When we’ve passed bills and the other side fights them, his office has been very proactive in defending the bills, and he deserves some of the credit for a lot of the legislative progress we have made in our state.”

Above all else, she hopes the younger generation will step up to take on these challenges rather than passing them on once again. “I believe we can do this,” Loosmore said. “I believe we can stop gun violence. I think we need to change the culture around guns in our country, and I think we also need to pass legislation and enforce it. Your generation is stepping into adulthood, and you have the opportunity to have a very large voice if you register to vote and get involved. The first thing is just believing it can be done; that has always been the first step for every multi-generational social struggle like civil rights or suffrage. What I’m hoping for the most, against all odds, is that your generation does not become so cynical about the world that we’re leaving you that you give up. Because we know what happens if we don’t work on these problems: a lot of people die.”

Loosmore invites Islanders to share their interest or any questions here.

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