A lasting legacy: Zionsville founder of Moms Demand Action retiring 


Shannon Watts, a former Zionsville resident and founder of Moms Demand Action – a national nonprofit that advocates for stronger laws and policies to reduce gun violence — said she will retire as the organization’s volunteer leader at the end of this year. 

“I’ve always felt that founders have a finite role, and after serving as a full-time volunteer leader for more than a decade, it felt like the right time.” Watts said. “It’s really been an honor to work on this issue, but I think by stepping back, I can celebrate and enable others to step forward.” 

Shannon Watts speaking at a Don’t Look Away rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Moms Demand Action)

Watts, 52, started the organization in 2012 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 students along with six school staff members. Watts, then a Zionsville resident, was sitting at her kitchen table when the news broke that day. Shocked and angry, she posted a plea on Facebook for women and moms to join efforts of bringing change to end gun violence. Within hours, her post went viral. 

“Within a week of starting Moms Demand Action, I was featured on USA Today,” said Watts, who now resides in the Bay Area of California. “I had perfect strangers all over the country sending me emails and texts messages asking me, “How do I do this where I live?” I don’t think any of us knew what that looked like in those early days, but what I did know was that I wanted to be part of a (determined) army of angry women who could make an impact by changing the legislation on this issue.”

CIZ COV 0131Indiana Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day at Statehouse in 2020
A previous Indiana Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day at Statehouse. (Photos courtesy
of Moms Demand Action)

When Watts went online and searched for movements created by women seeking gun reform, she said the groups were mostly run by men and few city and state organizations. 

“I feel like women are the secret sauce to change, all the way from Prohibition up to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,” she said. “It seems to always be when women get off the sidelines that change happens, and so that was why I posted, wanting to join a group, not realizing I was actually starting this organization.” 

The result was Moms Demand Action. With more than 10 million supporters, it is one of the largest organizations of its kind in the nation. Watts, author of the new book “Fight Like A Mother,” was a stay-at-home mother of five when the group was created. She applied her skills from her previous communications career and became the face of the organization virtually overnight. 

“It quickly became clear that marches and railing weren’t going to be enough,” she said. “We would need to organize, just as the gun lobby had for so long, so that we could go toe-to-toe with this very powerful and wealthy special interest. We are twice as large as the National Rifle Association now.”

Watts said Moms Demand Action has made it a priority to stop “bad bills” in statehouses across the U.S. She said the group works to pass “good policies” at all levels of government, including city councils, school boards, statehouses and Congress.

Mom’s Demand Action attend rally in N.Y. on the Brooklyn Bridge.)

 “Our motto is, ‘Do the right thing and we’ll have your back, do the wrong thing and we’ll have your job,’” Watts said. 

Watts said she’s incredibly proud that the organization has “empowered women” to lead on every level. Moms Demand Action has helped elect its own volunteers and gun-violence survivors to office. 

CIZ COV 0131 Senator andrea hunley
Ind. Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-46)

Including the last election cycle in November, more than 140 of the organization’s volunteers and survivors were elected to political office across the U.S. The list includes Indiana State Sen. Andrea Hunley of District 46.

“I was inspired to join Moms Demand Action after the Parkland school shooting,” Hunley said. “I asked myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ That’s when I joined MDA, and I began following Shannon’s words, wisdom and research. I began advocating with my local and state government, and then I ran for office.”

Watts said Moms Demand Action pushed strongly for the recently passed gun safety legislation, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The bill established enhanced background checks process for gun buyers under age 21, among other provisions.

Watts said she’s had many people reach out to her and suggesting she run for office after retiring but she has not made a decision.

“I’m going to take time for myself,” she said. “As you can imagine, given the subject matter being very overwhelming, I’m going to take time to transition out of this role and then figure out what’s next. This has been an honor of a lifetime. I feel in many ways I’ve touched the divine by seeing the love of a community come together to support survivors.” .