Doctor of Humanities

Shannon Watts is a mother of five and the founder of the nation’s largest grassroots group fighting against gun violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Prior to founding Moms Demand Action, Ms. Watts was a stay-at-home mom and former communications executive at Fortune 100 companies, including Fleishman-Hillard, General Electric and Anthem, where she supported one of the first female Fortune 100 CEOs.

In 2007, Ms. Watts started a five-year hiatus from her career to stay at home with her children. Then, in December of 2012, the day after the Sandy Hook School shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Ms. Watts started a Facebook page to unite women to fight for gun safety. She started a conversation online that turned into an offline movement similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which united mothers against the alcohol lobby in the 1980s.

More on Shannon Watts

• From Everytown for Gun Safety

• In People magazine

• Founder, Moms Demand Action

• On NBC News

• On Katie Couric Media

Moms Demand Action is now one of the nation’s largest grassroots movements with a chapter in every state, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and—together with its partners Students Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety—over six million supporters. 

In a 2020 Forbes magazine article, she described why she became an activist: “After Sandy Hook, I felt I had to do something. It’s gun violence that kills 100 Americans a day, Black and Latino Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims, and in an average month, 53 American women are shot to death by a partner. I have watched this issue in this country for too long and I’m incredulous that no one was doing anything. As Alice Walker once said, ‘Activism is my rent for living on the planet.’ Fighting for gun safety became my rent!”

When Moms Demand Action first took on the National Rifle Association (NRA)—one of the wealthiest and most powerful special interests that has ever existed in America—it was a David versus Goliath battle. Today, the organization is larger than the NRA and works to address the nation’s gun violence crisis legislatively, electorally and culturally. 

In the past eight years, volunteers have passed dozens of gun safety bills into law, including bills requiring a background check on every gun sale, creating emergency risk protection orders and disarming domestic abusers. In addition, they’ve stopped hundreds of bad bills, including Stand Your Ground, which allow armed individuals who believe they are in imminent danger to use deadly force; legislation that arms teachers or forces guns onto college campuses; and so-called permitless carry. 

For the past five years, Moms Demand Action volunteers have stopped the NRA’s priority legislation in statehouses more than 90 percent of the time. The organization regularly outspends and outmaneuvers the gun lobby each election cycle. In the 2018 midterm elections, the organization outspent the NRA, elected more than 1,000 gun-sense candidates to office across the country and flipped the makeup of seven state legislatures. 

In 2020, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action helped deliver what they consider a gun-sense trifecta to Washington by flipping the Senate and the White House to join the House of Representatives with a gun safety agenda. Moms Demand Action also educates Americans about secure gun storage through its program Be SMART.

Ms. Watts graduated from the University of Missouri in 1993 after earning a bachelor of arts degree. She then went to work for former governor Mel Carnahan’s administration in Jefferson City, where she was a speech writer and communications manager. She also worked for the Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City and Fleishman-Hillard in St. Louis. She is working on her master of fine arts at the University of Denver.

In addition to her work with Moms Demand Action, Ms. Watts is an active board member of Emerge America, one of the nation’s leading organizations for recruiting and training women to run for office. 

Her book, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World, was released in May 2019. 

In 2018, Ms. Watts was named as one of People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World and InStyle magazine profiled her in its 2018 “Badass Woman” series. 

Ms. Watts lives in Northern California with her husband, John.