Why Women Will Lead the Way on Gun Reform – The Feminist Wire

Why Women Will Lead the Way on Gun Reform

Memorial to Isla Vista Shooting Victims (Photo Credit: CNN)

Memorial to Isla Vista Shooting Victims (Photo Credit: CNN)

By Hollye Dexter

What woke me that summer morning in 1978 was the screaming. I didn’t know it was my mother’s voice. I’d never heard a sound like that come out of her. I ran into the living room to find my seven-year-old brother Christopher covered in blood. He had just been shot in the head by a neighborhood kid playing with his dad’s gun.

Christopher was in the first grade. He was a skinny little, tow-headed boy missing his front teeth. I held him as my mother tore through stop signs and red lights all the way to the hospital. The last thing he said to me before losing consciousness was, “Please don’t let me die.” His eyes fluttered and rolled back in his head as his little body began twitching violently. I screamed at my mother to drive faster. My arms were covered in my brother’s blood. I was fourteen years old.

My brother survived, but the life that was meant for him was taken with a single bullet. With brain surgeries and a year of physical therapy, Christopher learned how to use a fork and walk without dragging his leg. He learned to talk without slurring. He learned how to write with his left hand, to compensate for the loss of motor skills on his right side. He went to school wearing a helmet. His young body was able to heal much of the brain damage, but the emotional damage continues to take its toll. Though he lived, a part of him died that day–the part that was pure, childlike and trusting. He still has a piece of the bullet in his brain.

Christopher and I had a single mother who worked nights to support us. It was all she could do to get through each day with work, therapies, doctor appointments and getting Christopher caught back up in school. We never talked about the incident that turned our lives upside down. We just lived it.

Three decades later, watching the news coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre on a Friday morning brought all the memories I had suppressed back in vivid detail. I know what a child who’s been shot looks like. It’s a nightmare that never fades away.

On the morning of December 14th, 2012, I knew I could never go back to life as usual. If I didn’t do something, the grief was going to overtake me. So I started writing about my own experience with gun violence and putting my stories out into the world, and that’s when someone referred me to this new group of mothers who were rising up against this public epidemic. I started working for Moms Demand Action that day.  This year we merged with Mayors Against Illegal Guns and became part of Everytown for Gun Safety – a movement that is already turning the tide of gun violence in America.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been proud to stand with moms, grandmothers, dads, friends, aunts and uncles across the country, fighting for stronger gun legislation that protects children, women and all citizens. We have packed the State Capitols with our strollers and diaper bags, showing up relentlessly month after month. We have stormed Capitol Hill and sent a clear message to Congress- we are united, and we are not going away. And we have had great victories at the state level. I’m especially proud of the strides we’ve made passing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers in Washington, Minnesota, Louisiana and Wisconsin. I know this work is saving lives.

But recently there has been an alarming wave of misogynistic threats against us coming from self-proclaimed “patriots” across the country. These gun extremists, predominantly male, are on a mission to intimidate women into silence on the issue of gun violence.

Sexual insults and threats of violence against us on social media are a common occurrence. We are called whores, sluts and worse daily. And not just by extremists. Sometimes we’re bullied by state legislators.

This April, all within the span of about a week, things really began to heat up. In Indiana, an employee from gun parts manufacturer Slide Fire Solutions, Inc. posted a picture of Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts on their company Facebook page, allowing misogynist, sexual and violent comments to be posted such as, “There’s another way to shut her up that’s a lot more fun.”

In Texas, they retaliated against a woman who called 911 when she saw men with assault rifles in her neighborhood, publishing her name and phone number on gun extremists pages and threatening to do the same to anyone who reports them.

In California, they are aggressively pursuing Belinda Padilla, the female CEO of Armitix, a German company that sells “Smart Guns.” These are guns that can only be used by the gun owner and therefore can’t cause accidental shootings or be wrestled away from and used against, say, a woman gun-owner.  The extremists don’t want these guns on the market, and have published Padilla’s phone number, stalked her and published photos taken of her at her P.O. box.

But perhaps the most egregious incident happened a few weeks ago in Indiana. Jennifer Longdon, a mom and gun-owner who has been paralyzed since being shot in the back in 2004, came to Indiana during the NRA convention to talk about common sense gun laws that protect all citizens without infringing on gun owner’s rights. At the Indianapolis airport as she sat in her wheelchair waiting to board her plane home, a gun extremist who recognized her from the news walked up and spat in her face. Jennifer’s response was not one of bitterness. She said, “They don’t get to scare us. We have the moral high ground. The overwhelming number of responsible gun owners must stand with me as a gun owner and a survivor, and say ‘enough.'”

In the wake of the horrific Isla Vista shooting last Friday, in which the shooter made a specific plan to kill young women, it’s clear that, sadly, misogyny is alive and well in America. Though the intention of armed bullies is to frighten and silence women, they will be disappointed to discover that their efforts are having the opposite effect. Women are not cowering in fear. We are standing up and galvanizing against this threat, organizing efforts to get folks engaged and to the ballot boxes come midterms. For too long politicians have turned a deaf ear to the people, all the while letting the gun lobby dictate our country’s gun policies. But moms know how to handle bad behavior. These politicians need a time out. We’ll be sure to give them one with our votes this election season.

I’ve worked with the parents and family members of the Sandy Hook victims. I count as friends survivors of the Virginia Tech and Aurora and Tucson shootings. I have experienced the horror of gun violence in my own life and I will do everything in my power to prevent others from experiencing it. Our collective grief has unified us in our mission to save lives. We will not be silenced. Not ever.


Hollye in NYHollye Dexter’s articles about women’s issues, activism and politics have been published in numerous anthologies as well as online on Maria Shriver’s Architects of ChangeHuffington Post LiveOpposing Viewsand more. She is also the author of three books — her recently released “Dancing at the Shame Prom” was praised by bestselling author Gloria Feldt (former CEO of Planned Parenthood) as “…a brilliant book that just might change your life.”
Dexter is an Ambassador for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She lives in L.A. with a houseful of kids and pets that give her many reasons to retreat into writing. You can visit her blog here.



  1. Matthew Abely

    May 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Currently I am trying to produce a workshop to help people organize against harassment that happens at comic book conventions. I think there is overlap because the remembers of Rapists Anonymous (formerly know as Men’s Rights Activists), have this tendency to be both gun and comic book fanatics. Any advice on where to start and more importantly what to do about backlash when it comes?

    • Hollye Dexter

      June 1, 2014 at 11:47 am

      I’m no expert on this subject, Matthew. My personal response with this underbelly of humanity was to expose it, which I’ve done through writing. My thinking is this: Mold cannot survive when exposed to light. Let’s shine a bright light on this toxic mold (misogyny) and expose it for what it is. That’s the first step. There are experts in psychology who I hope will come up with other solutions..but I know that staying silent about something only perpetuates it. My advice, do what you’re doing. Speak out!

  2. Lynn

    May 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you for this article. I recently became involved with Moms Demand Action and appreciate that the group contains intelligent, reasonable and knowledgeable people like you. I’m very impressed that you’re able to channel the anger and frustration from your brother’s shooting into positive action.

    • Hollye Dexter

      June 1, 2014 at 11:35 am

      Thank you for joining us. I am proud to walk beside you on this journey.

  3. J. David Dacus

    May 30, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Thank you for your service to all the people in the United States in this matter. Your courage is an inspiration to others.

    Best regards,

    • Hollye Dexter

      June 1, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Thank you David.

  4. Sallie Badger

    May 30, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Hollye, thank you for sharing your story and highlighting those of others who have suffered through the aftermath of violence. My husband, Bill Badger, is a survior of the Tucson shooting. I hope to meet you one day as we continue to push forward with our amazing group that will be here for as long as it takes to makes the changes we need to be able to live in a safe country.

    • Hollye Dexter

      June 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

      I hope to meet you too, and I’m sure we will at some point. I imagine you have worked with my friend Jocelyn, who manages the Moms AZ chapter. I am so grateful your husband survived. Until we meet, proud to walk with you on this journey.

  5. Lori Saldaña

    June 1, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, and describing the “special” treatment women receive when trying to work on gun safety issues. I experienced similar problems in 2010, as a California Assemblymember serving in my final term after 6 years in office.

    That year I introduced AB 1934- legislation to ban “open carry” in the state. My staff and I soon became targets of threats, harassment and stalking. In one case, two men who were open carry advocates drove 500 miles from San Diego (my district) to the Bay Area to confront me at a public meeting, and bragged about carrying guns, knives and ammunition in their car. One of them carried a weapon and ammunition inside the meeting room, despite it being held in a “gun free” area near a public school.

    No charges were ever filed, even though he bragged about it in a post on his personal blog.

    But the biggest threat to the bill finally came from male legislators within the Capitol: two Senators, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, intentionally withheld their votes to delay passage of the bill in the Senate, where it had been amended. When they finally cast their votes, and the bill made it back to the Assembly for a required vote before it could go to the Governor, the Majority Leader (Chuck Calderon, brother of Ron) refused to allow it to come up for a final vote.

    I termed out of office in Dec. 2010, and a few months later, in January 2011, Rep. Gifford and her staff were gunned down in Tucson. I remember thinking: that could have been me and my staff…

    In August 2011, an identical bill to ban open carry was introduced by a male legislator who was friends with Chuck Calderon. It was signed into law by Gov. Brown.

    Earlier this year (2014), Senators Calderon and Yee were indicted for corruption and money laundering, including gun running, and were suspended from elected office.

    The take away from me was: if you’re a woman, and you work for gun safety as a volunteer or elected official, be prepared to be treated very differently than men working on similar issues.

    • Hollye Dexter

      June 1, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Wow, Lori. I am stunned by your story, and yet…why should I be? I know this happens every day, especially to women who buck the system. May I share your story with others in my organization?

      It must have been gratifying for you to see Yee get caught. What a snake that guy was. Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of gun reform. You are a She-ro.

      • Lori Saldaña

        June 1, 2014 at 11:49 pm

        Thanks for the reply. Please feel free to share this story with others.

        I want people to know that legislative efforts to improve gun safety laws can often be hindered for reasons that have nothing to do with the core issue. In this case, as a woman leaving office, certain members conspired to prevent me from having a landmark piece of legislation go to the Governor’s desk for consideration. Granted, Schwarzenegger was Governor at the time, and he may have vetoed the bill. But we will never know.

        As for Yee and Calderon’s latest problems- “gratified,” no. Surprised, no. They were both among the most corrupt, unethical members I served with during my 6 years in the legislature. Another, Senator Rod Wright, is also under suspension for illegal acts.

        Not only did these men violate the law, they violated the trust people deserve to have in their elected representatives. Their arrests and indictments are simply the visible confirmation of bad acts that many of us in Sacramento suspected, but could do little to change while serving with them.