Back in May, Mark Follman of Mother Jones wrote a scathing piece describing the way fringe gun rights groups like Open Carry Texas target female gun control advocates. You’d think that the National Rifle Association, which holds itself out as a more professional organization than these fringe groups, would be hesitant to court allegations of sexism by singling out women for attack. But, no.
See the latest issue of the NRA magazine America’s 1st Freedom, which features an attempted exposé of Shannon Watts, the leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Written by Dave Kopel, the piece starts with the accusation that Watts is a “stand-in, stay-at-home” frontwoman for Michael Bloomberg, even though Bloomberg is no shrinking violet on this issue. But Kopel’s main argument against Watts is that she is a phony for presenting herself as a stay-at-home mom, when she actually performs paid work:
Had Watts “been a stay-at-home mom” for the previous five years? Not exactly. In December 2008, Watts announced the formation of her public relations firm, VoxPop Public Relations, including an impressive list of clients for which she was already working. The registered address for her PR firm was a residence, so presumably she was running her pr firm out of her house. Her children were all well into school-age or older, so it’s likely that she had plenty of time to run her business during the day.
While Kopel hastens to add that there’s “nothing wrong” with being a paid professional (thanks), he then proceeds to cast doubt on his own assertion by painting Watts’ career in the worst possible light, complaining that her anti-gun advocacy helped her achieve “the dream of every public relations professional—landing a fabulously rich client,” Michael Bloomberg’s “gun prohibition empire.” See, she’s a gold-digger: “She landed the 16th-richest man in the world (according to Forbes magazine): Michael Bloomberg and his $32 billion.” Something tells me that Watts’ work with Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization does not actually entitle her to Bloomberg’s billions.
The fact that Shannon Watts holds herself out as a humble stay-at-home mother while actually being a successful PR professional does raise some interesting questions. Why, in the year 2014, does the image of a humble housewife hold more cachet than that of an experienced professional? Why is it Moms Demand Action, instead of Parents Demand Action? Why do the same gendered PR strategies that worked in the ‘70s still have so much power today? Why is it that someone who makes money working at home is less worthy of the “stay-at-home mom” label than someone who doesn’t make money? Or is it OK as long as you just sell Mary Kay while avoiding more high-profile work?
Kopel has no interest in any of these questions. He has a retro, romanticized vision of what a housewife should be, and he focuses his ire on counting every penny he believes Watts has earned in her work as a professional activist. Kopel gets so bent out of shape about her supposed wealth that he even tries to push the pro-gun lobby as some kind of advocate for the less fortunate, in one telling passage:
At the small rally she held outside the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Indianapolis, Ind., in April, she was protected by armed bodyguards.
It is hypocritical, indeed, for Watts to employ the protection of Bloomberg-paid bodyguards while at the same time working to prevent self-defense by law-abiding Americans who cannot afford paid guards.
Maybe it’s less “hypocritical” and more indicative of the very real dangers Watts faces. Your average Joe on the street runs a much lower risk than Watts, who is the target of a misogynist campaign by the most well-armed people in the country, as has been well-demonstrated in Mother Jones. That Watts has every reason to be fearful for her safety is not a very good argument for the continued policies making it easy for unhinged people to build up arsenals of high-powered weapons.
The NRA wants to convince Americans that they are an innocent organization merely here to teach people “to respect firearms and make responsible choices about them,” as Kopel writes. If so, then maybe it’s wise not to pander to the worst impulses of right-wing radicals, like loathing women who dare to step out of the kitchen.