(CNN) — Editor’s Note: Shannon Watts, who founded the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is the author of “Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.” The opinions in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Last month saw one of the deadliest weeks America has seen in a long time. Eighteen people were gunned down in Lewiston, Maine. The following weekend, 12 more mass shootings left at least 11 people dead and scores more injured.
Yet, as our nation grieves the loss of so much life, the US Supreme Court could be poised to make it even easier for troubled people to access guns. On November 7, justices will hear United States v. Rahimi, a case that will decide if governments can continue to prevent those accused of domestic violence from possessing firearms. The fact that there can be any question about how the Court would rule in a case on whether accused domestic abusers can arm themselves reveals just how broken the Court has become.
It’s also a clear sign that the gun safety movement needs to get to work reforming the Supreme Court.
Rahimi is a direct consequence of the Supreme Court’s radical decision last year inNew York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen to overturn a more than 100-year-old law and for the first time in American history, limit the rights of states to regulate guns in public. It was arguably the most expansive pro-guns decision ever, made possible by the supermajority of hardline conservative justices that the gun lobby advocated aggressively to create.
Predictably, the Bruen decision has wreaked havoc on laws designed to keep the public safe from guns. Lower courts have used it to rule against more than a dozengun safety laws — not just the prohibitions on domestic abusers at issue in the Rahimi case, but also bans on assault weapons and gun safety requirements for young adults. Regardless of how Rahimi is decided, the Supreme Court has already done enormous damage to our ability to keep Americans safe from gun violence.
The radical decision in Bruen and the extreme threat of Rahimi are the culmination of years of work by the gun lobby. Groups like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have deployed campaign contributions, million-dollar ad campaigns, and shadowy back-door legal maneuvers.
As a result, we have a Supreme Court that is radically out of touch with safety-minded Americans on this and other issues, and that has lost the trust of a huge swath of the American public.
Just within the past few days, the Supreme Court said it also plans to take up laws against bump stocks — measures that aim to reduce the lethality of semi-automatic weapons that are so frequently deployed by perpetrators of mass shootings. It also agreed to hear an appeal brought by the NRA in which the gun lobby group alleges that the former head of New York’s Department of Financial Services tried to persuade banks and insurance companies to sever ties with it.
It’s now clearer than ever: There has been a pronounced pro-gun shift at the Supreme Court, and it places the welfare of millions of Americans in jeopardy. It also runs counter to the urgent demands from millions of us for increased gun safety.
After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, I started a Facebook group urging parents to mobilize and fight to prevent more senseless violence. As a mom of five, my heart broke for the families who had suffered such unimaginable loss, and I knew we could all do much more. What began as a plaintive rallying cry becameMoms Demand Action — a grassroots movement with chapters in every state.
Thanks to the tireless work of advocates and activists across the country, in the decade since founding Moms Demand Action, we demonstrated that Americans of every stripe want common sense gun reforms. Since our movement took off, states have signed over 500 new gun safety measures into law, including extreme risk protection orders, safe storage requirements, and background checks. In 2022, over3,000 local, state, and federal candidates championed gun safety in their elections. And last summer, the US Congress broke through a 30-year logjam to pass the first federal gun safety bill since President Bill Clinton was in office.
Now, we need to channel the energy of gun safety advocates into fixing our broken Supreme Court. We need Supreme Court expansion to restore balance and sanity to the Court. By passing a law to add more justices, we can give the president an opportunity to appoint four new justices who will help restore balance to the institution.
This change would not guarantee the outcome in any particular case — but it would help counterbalance the extreme-right supermajority that has made the Court such a reliable ally for the gun lobby. Fortunately, Supreme Court expansion is clearly constitutional: Congress has done it multiple times throughout American history and we can do it again.
While no one expects us to achieve Supreme Court expansion while Republicans control the House of Representatives, there is growing support for it across the country, and it is a sensible long-term goal. A growing group of advocates within the gun violence prevention, reproductive rights and racial justice movements are calling for expansion.
In Congress, expansion is supported by leaders like Sens. Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (Democrat-Massachusetts), and Tina Smith (Democrat-Minnesota). It has also earned the backing of House members like Rep. Jamie Raskin (Democrat-Maryland), Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (Democrat-New York) Rep. Hank Johnson (Democrat-Georgia) and many others.
Meanwhile, prominent legal experts including former members of President Biden’s commission on the Supreme Court say expansion “may be the only thing that will save our democracy for the next generation” and call it “the only hope for a cure” for the problems at the Court. We will not win this fight overnight, but taking on the gun lobby has taught me that it is possible to build a movement to take on powerful opponents who at first look unbeatable.
The battle for gun safety will need to be waged on many fronts. Expanding the Supreme Court would be yet another way we can fight the war against senseless gun violence. And while we engage in the long-term battle to structurally reform the Supreme Court, we need to continue to support gun safety candidates and demand new laws.
Increasing the number of justices will not be easy. But when it comes to protecting our kids from the scourge of gun violence, we do not have the luxury of opting out of the tough fights. It’s time for the gun safety movement to take a stand on the fight for fair courts — because lives depend on us winning.
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