Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Change Makers: Moms Demand Action’s Elizabeth Becker on Her Continuing Work to End Gun Violence in Nevada

Elizabeth Becker did not originally plan to work on gun violence prevention. Instead, like so many other gun safety activists, the issue found her. Since then, Becker has been on the front line in fights to expand background checks and prevent dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

After the October 1 shooting, Nevada’s gun laws received national attention, particularly a voter approved initiative that has not been enforced since the last election. We speak with Becker about not just her group’s efforts to get that initiative enforced, but also why she’s determined to continue her work to stop gun violence.

“Oh gosh, we’re doing something wrong. There’s something very wrong in our society.”
– Elizabeth Becker, Moms Demand Action 

Becker first got involved with Moms Demand Action (which is part of the Everytown for Gun Safety network) in 2014, when her good friend, long-time progressive activist Sue Brooks, encouraged her to join. Even though this wasn’t an issue she was originally passionate about, Becker agreed to manage social media for the Nevada chapter.

As part of Becker’s duties, she read many articles on gun violence before she posted them onto Moms Demand Action social media accounts. Gradually, gun violence became Becker’s own issue. As she’d read these articles, Becker would think to herself, “Oh gosh, we’re doing something wrong. There’s something very wrong in our society.”

After Brooks passed away last November, Becker became the new Nevada chapter leader. “I didn’t originally want to do it, but I had to do it for her.” Since then, Becker spent nearly a year as chapter leader, working on issues like the new background checks law that still isn’t being enforced.

“Because of the wording of the statement Laxalt put out, you can’t even do a background check if you want one.”
– Elizabeth Becker, Moms Demand Action 

 

Like many other gun violence prevention activists, Becker took part in the push to get the Question 1 Background Checks Initiative on the 2016 ballot. Even though Becker was new to the cause, she knew why this happened. “I knew this bill passed the Legislature in 2013, but was vetoed by [Governor Brian] Sandoval [R]. I knew we always had this background check loophole.” Becker continued, “I viewed it as ridiculous. As of 2015, about 30% of guns sold in Nevada were sold without background checks. I knew it was an issue.”

Even though the initiative passed, it’s still not being enforced. Becker pointed out not just Sandoval’s refusal to enforce the law, but how Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) has made the situation even worse. “The really depressing part of all of this is how it passed, then Laxalt issued his opinion on December 28, 2016, and now they can’t even do background checks for private sales, even if they want one.”

Becker then explained how Laxalt’s December 2016 opinion resulted in not just Question 1 being blocked, but also the denial of FBI background checks to Nevada private sellers who want them conducted. “I don’t think the public knows that. Because of the wording of the statement Laxalt put out, you can’t even do a background check if you want one.” According to Becker, “Now, these private sellers can’t put it through the repository.”

“[‘Bump stocks’] are made to convert something that’s illegal into something that’s legal. Most of the public didn’t even know these existed.”
– Elizabeth Becker, Moms Demand Action

Elizabeth Becker often wears her Everytown shirts and buttons around town. As a result, she often has to debate gun laws at events one would otherwise consider apolitical. “Once at a bar on Fremont Street, a man saw my shirt and said, ‘You’ve probably never bought a gun.'” Becker then told him, “‘Honey, my husband’s a military veteran. I grew up in South Carolina.'”

Indeed, Becker’s husband is a U.S. Air Force veteran. That’s how she found about the ‘bump stock’ device that was used in the Las Vegas Shooting earlier this month. “My husband knew these existed, but he didn’t even know these were available to the general public.”

Becker continued. “They’re made to convert something that’s illegal into something that’s legal. Most of the public didn’t even know these existed.” She then pointed to the most obvious purpose of this assault weapon accessory. “The shooter clearly bought them so he could shoot faster. If he was using these while perpetrating this horrible event, he knew this would help him shoot faster.”

“It’s going to be grassroots, people power. […] If we have our voices heard, that’s how we get things done.”
– Elizabeth Becker, Moms Demand Action

A day after we spoke with Elizabeth Becker, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) echoed many of the same sentiments in her maiden speech on the Senate floor. In contrast, Senator Dean Heller (R) did not mention gun violence at all during his speech commemorating the Las Vegas Shooting. Both their speeches came on the heels of Congressional Republican leaders slamming the door on any possible gun violence prevention legislation, even a ban on “bump stock” devices.

During our conversation, we asked Becker why she persists, despite the lack of progress at the federal level. Becker pointed to progress at the state and local level, including here in Nevada with the passage of Question 1 and legislation to protect domestic violence survivors.

Becker later described to us a recent Moms Demand Action volunteer meeting, one that overflowed with people new to gun safety advocacy. She closed our discussion with this description of how gun violence prevention activists can continue to move the needle in Nevada, then eventually make progress nationally: “It’s going to be grassroots, people power. We elect these people. If we have our voices heard, that’s how we get things done.”

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