For Tamika Mallory, co-president of the Women’s March, Friday and Saturday’s protests against the National Rifle Association are personal. In 2001, Mallory lost her son’s father, Jason Ryans, to gun violence. On that devastating day in April, she became a single parent to her young son.
Ryans, 26, was assaulted by two men who thought he had stolen from them. The men then took Ryans to a rural location, under the false pretense they were driving him to the hospital, and shot him to death. "I think obviously being impacted directly by gun violence in my family with my son's father taken away makes this a very passionate issue for me," Mallory tells Bustle.
Since then, Mallory has been a vocal advocate for increased gun control. And, she is once again leading the charge — this time against the NRA, one of the country's most politically powerful advocacy groups for gun manufacturers, and whose leadership declared themselves as part of the Trump "Counter Resistance" in a February ad.
The group proudly endorsed Trump during his presidency, spending more than $30 million — more than any other outside group, according to the Trace — on his campaign.
On Friday, the Women's March will embark on a 18-mile trek from the NRA's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. On Saturday, they will host a vigil in front of the Department of Justice building for Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez in June 2016, despite notifying Yanez that he was carrying a licensed firearm. Yanez was later acquitted for the shooting.
The Women's March from #NRA2DOJ is the direct response to a slew of aggressive NRA ads that stirred controversy over their portrayal of the "violent left," and their plea to "fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth."
"They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler," NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said in the first, one-minute clip. "All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding."
On June 28, Mallory published an open letter to NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, reprimanding the video as, "a direct attack on people of color, progressives and anyone who exercises their First Amendment right to protest." Mallory says she expected the NRA to arrange a meeting with the Women's March, pull the ad down, or even come forward to say they weren't interested in responding.
Instead, they fueled the fire even more — releasing a chilling video, titled "We Don't Apologize for Telling the Truth," featuring conservative talk-show host Grant Stinchfield and specifically targeting Mallory.
"We felt very threatened and it was very clear that we needed to make sure that the public, in particular black and brown people, and folks who are protesters, were aware of the fact that the NRA had pretty much waged war against us," Mallory says. "I've been involved in issuing statements to the NRA. It's not the first time that we've called out the hypocrisy of the NRA, but it is the first time that an entity that has as much respect as the Women's March is going to be really calling them out."
She expects citizens of good moral conscience — whether that be five people or 500 — to come out to make their voices heard. "Even some card-carrying NRA members have said they will be with us," she says.
One of their major demands is for the NRA to make a statement defending Castile's legal rights to a gun, and for the Department of Justice to indict Yanez, the officer who shot him.
"Your organization claims to stand for the Second Amendment rights of all Americans, but instead of affirming Mr. Castile's rights as well as his responsibilities under the legal license to carry his gun, you released this vicious and incendiary video calling for armed conflict," Mallory wrote in the open letter.
The Women's March isn't the first instance of women leading the efforts on gun violence prevention. Recently, female politicians such as California Sen. Diane Feinstein, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords have been vocal advocates of more stringent gun laws. And, in 2000, more than 750,000 moms and advocates rallied together at the Million Mom March in D.C. in response to a brutal 1999 shooting at a Jewish Community Center in California.
"Gun violence is definitely a women's issue," says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization created in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting to demand gun reform. "The gun lobby has erroneously made a vocal minority afraid their guns are going to be taken away, but women are afraid their children are going to be taken away. And I really do think that's the emotion that will win at the end of the day."
"They have to create a culture war in order to sell more guns."
Women and children are disproportionately affected by gun violence in the United States, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the country's largest gun violence prevention organization. Women made up 51 percent of mass shooting victims between 2009 and 2014, and are 16 times more likely to be killed by guns in the United States than in other developed countries. They are also more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner.
For millennial women, these stats are particularly alarming: In 2008, more homicide cases were committed by a dating partner than a spouse, according to a report by the Department of Justice. Sixty-nine percent of millennials today are unmarried.
Watts says the extremism of the NRA's leadership, and push for increased gun sales, will only continue to exasperate the gun violence epidemic. "For so long, the NRA has had a boogeyman in the White House to make gun owners afraid that their guns were going to be confiscated," she says. "They don't have that now, so instead of trying to make gun owners afraid of the person in the White House, they have to make us afraid of each other. They have to create a culture war in order to sell more guns."
Margot Bennett, the executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, agrees. "[The NRA] is the marketing and advertising firm for the gun manufacturers and they use whatever they can do to make sure the gun sales increase. They sell fear of each other, of all of us to be afraid of each other, and I think we see this with their two recent videos," she tells Bustle. "The protester is now the enemy."
For Mallory, this weekend's protest is an opportunity for people of all walks of life to unite and make their voices heard — despite the "us versus them" rhetoric flouted in the NRA ads.
"It's important that we create an intersectional movement where people who are in the domestic violence space, the gun violence space, the police accountability space, all those different issues would come together just to really work at ways to stand up to the NRA," she says.
"I think the Women's March proves that we are able to bring people together from all different types of issue areas and get them to focus in on one particular oppressive behavioral pattern."