FOUR years ago, she was terrified of guns. She believed merely touching a firearm might make it “go off.” She thought if you dropped a cartridge (which, of course, she called a bullet), it would explode. Above all, she was petrified that one of her children could be blown away in an instant simply by getting near a firearm.
Things have changed. Today, Heather Marchese is the founder and president of 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control. Yes, against gun control. She and her family shoot regularly. And she played a wonderful role in subverting the launch of Michael Bloomberg’s astroturf group, Everytown for Gun Safety. From never having engaged in any form of political activism, Heather is now an enthusiastic pro-gun activist. And given the level of energy and commitment she projects, she may just be getting started.
What changed her? Two things. First was her fiancé, Craig, who gradually introduced her to firearms. She trusts her life to him, and once she let him teach her children safe gun handling (“He was better than Eddie the Eagle.”) and take them target shooting, she jumped in herself and there was no looking back. She had discovered her “inner Annie Oakley.” Second was the Sandy Hook killings. More specifically, she was infuriated listening to PR “mom” Shannon Watts claiming that all mothers wanted more victim disarmament in the wake of Sandy Hook.
Watts was then pimping for One Million Moms for Gun Control (which soon morphed into Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which then got folded into Bloomberg’s new Everytown for Gun Safety). Marchese, a mother of three adolescents, was incensed that anybody would claim to speak for her. “No one speaks for me but me,” she insists, “especially if I disagree with what’s being said.”
She was also worried about her own children at their school. Sandy Hook Elementary had been a “lockdown” school, where no one was supposed to be casually allowed in. So was the school Marchese’s children attended. But when she went there to check out the school’s security precautions, she found that its door (which was supposed to be buzzer-activated) was routinely left unlocked or even propped wide open. Someone had to give better protection to vulnerable children. And who better than their mothers and other family members? “It’s my job to make a voice,” Marchese later told Cam Edwards of the NRA’s Cam & Co.
When I asked her how it became her job rather than somebody else’s, she replied with a quote: “’I used to pray for somebody to speak up and defend our liberty, but then I realized, I am somebody. If not me, then who?”
On January 24, 2013, she established 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control (www.1mmagc.org and facebook.com /1millionmomsagainstguncontrol). It began with no particular goals. At first it was merely an online place for pro-gun mothers and their supporters to counter the wrongheaded information from Bloombergian “moms” and give useful information to women looking into gun ownership and training. But it grew.
As of the summer of 2014, 1MMAGC had 60,000 supporters, 200 active volunteers, and another 500 volunteers who could be counted on to put “boots on the ground” when needed. The group has regional coordinators and a number of state chapters. Marchese credits many people, starting with fiancé Craig and including members, supporters, and board members (Linda Elliott, Amber Furhmann, Michelle Byerly, and Rebecca Schmoe) for making it what it is.
1MMAGC aims to be the opposite of the Bloomberg “moms” in every way, not only in information but also in style. “What really got me about Watts,” Marchese notes, “is she has this page where, if you typically blindly follow things, you’d really think all moms do agree with her. In reality, she uses that in her PR agenda to sway incoming visitors. She will ban you in a heartbeat if you do anything that remotely resembles being pro-gun. We encourage open debate. We want to have a national conversation about this subject, and we do not ban someone simply because they disagree.” Cam Edwards called Marchese herself “conversational, not confrontational,” and this reasonableness informs everything the group does.
Well, almost everything. In April, when Michael Bloomberg announced his “new” Everytown for Gun Safety group (really just a retread of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action), some alert activist noticed that, among all the elaborate preps Bloomberg’s money and Watts’ PR skills had provided, something huge had been forgotten.
The Bloombergians hadn’t secured their own domain name or set up social media pages for Everytown. All around the country, pro-gun activists leaped to grab Everytown domains and set up blogs, Facebook pages, and other social media sites offering real gun-safety information.
Among those who jumped in most quickly and vigorously: volunteers from 1MMAGC and Gun Rights Across America (GRAA). Within days, there were literally hundreds of pro-gun Everytown sites online. Many were set up by unaffiliated individuals following their own drummers. But Marchese threw herself into the effort with such fervor that she and her associates ended up controlling about 150 of the new sites.
Of course, Bloomberg’s lawyers quickly waded in. Within days, they had closed down or seized all pro-gun sites with the Everytown name. But the damage had been done. News of Bloomberg’s launch had been totally overshadowed by the pro-gun Everytowns. Americans had been left with the distinct (and correct) impression that even Bloomberg’s billions can’t buy either competence or grassroots support.
1MMAGC joined the fundraising efforts for the family of Joseph Wilcox, the Las Vegas concealed-carry permit holder who died trying to stop a pair of spree killers. Wilcox had been an early and steadfast supporter of 1MMAGC.
What’s next for Marchese and her growing group of pro-gun moms? “Our goals are simple. We want to encourage women to defend themselves. Being a victim is no longer an option for our mothers. We want to partner up with ranges and instructors all across the country to offer more training geared toward women and moms. We want to provide support and training for someone who has never fired a single shot before, helping with everything from choosing a holster to proper handling, storage and transportation. We’re completing a training program for children, so they know how to properly clear and safely handle a firearm should there ever come a time they are in that situation.
“And of course we want to dispel the lies of that well-greased propaganda machine that Bloomberg funds.”
Marchese was never an activist until that January day less than two years ago. But in her background is a tragedy that both scarred and steeled her. In 1985, when she was just a toddler, her mother was murdered by an abusive boyfriend. The man, though he admitted his crime, has never been brought to justice.
“If my mother had been encouraged to defend herself, maybe she would still be here,” Marchese concludes. “Or maybe not. One thing’s for sure, though. If I can help one child from ever bearing the kind of pain that I have endured, my mother’s death won’t be in vain. It’s not what started my activism, but it’s the fuel that keeps me burning.”