Courtesy of Stephany Rose for Congress
House District 5 candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding, left, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
, and Stephany Rose Spaulding, the Democrat hoping to unseat Rep. Doug Lamborn, say they often cry when they're together.
A Sept. 25 town hall featuring the pair at Colorado College was no exception. The tears flowed more than once during a conversation about gun safety, local politics and the importance of intersectionality in activism.
Spaulding and Watts both addressed the idea that they're fighting respective uphill battles: Spaulding in a Republican district that's easily elected Lamborn six times, and Watts in a legislative landscape that has long been shaped by the powerful gun lobby.
Spaulding, a licensed minister and associate professor of women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said she decided to run for Congress after attending the Women's March in Washington.
"This is not the easiest district to be an African-American woman who is progressive and a pastor," Spaulding said. "...So what if it's hard? Life is hard!...In life we don't get to back down just because it is hard and there are roadblocks."
Spaulding recalled that some had asked her why she didn't want to enter a local race instead, perhaps for a seat on City Council or the Board of County Commissioners.
"We do not tell white boys who wake up in the morning and scratch themselves not to run for whatever office," she pointed out to laughter.
Watts' involvement in politics was also born of a single defining event: After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she founded Moms Demand Action to demand "common-sense" gun reforms. The organization now has chapters in all 50 states.
Watts acknowledged that despite polling that shows a shift in American attitudes about the Second Amendment, it's hard to overcome groups such as the National Rifle Association that have for decades donated to politicians' campaigns and given them favorable ratings in exchange for legislation that benefits gun manufacturers.
"Until we get the right president and Congress in place, we'll be playing defense with federal legislation," Watts said, adding that a ban on assault rifles, while an eventual goal, was not currently a priority for her organization. In the meantime, though, Moms Demand Action has defeated "dangerous" bills in many states that would have allowed guns in schools, eliminated background checks, and more, she said.
Besides pushing for legislation such as "red-flag" laws
and bump-stock bans, and opposing efforts by the NRA to make guns easier to get, Moms Demand Action also endorses candidates at the local and national level — including Spaulding.
Spaulding's choice to hold a campaign event on gun violence could be characterized as daring, in a county that in 2013 passed a resolution
defying Obama-era gun control orders, in 2014 allowed guns in parks
, and whose representative has received NRA ratings that consistently top 90 percent.
But Spaulding, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and saw gun violence affect her own family — both her brother and niece were held at gunpoint — says she doesn't oppose Americans' right to own firearms.
"I'm not against the Second Amendment," Spaulding said. "We have eroded the responsibility around what it means to be owners of firearms." She added that she feels there's been a shift in popular sentiment in Colorado Springs around gun ownership, with more residents here desiring reforms like those championed by Moms Demand Action.
"It's not about being anti-gun, it's really about, 'How do we make things safer?'"