CONCORD — Gun control activist Shannon Watts of Colorado, who founded Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense after the Sandy Hook school massacre, started a social media firestorm on Tuesday with a tweet from the New Hampshire State House.
Watts tweeted pictures of male lawmakers sporting long pearl necklaces to her nearly 300,000 followers as she observed the morning session of Tuesday’s hearing on a red flag law proposed in the Granite State.
Red flag laws allow for the confiscation of firearms from an individual who may be a risk to himself or others, based on a judge’s order.
“Male New Hampshire lawmakers on the hearing committee wearing pearls to mock @MomsDemand volunteers and gun safety advocates,” Watts tweeted.
Responses like “Those men are filth” and “Oh Look, sexists in the wild,” began to populate Twitter.
The dictionary definition of “clutching at pearls” lends itself to Watts’ interpretation: “to behave as if you are very shocked, especially when you show more shock than you really feel in order to show that you think something is morally bad.”
But that’s not what the pearls are about, according to Kimberly Morin, president of the Women’s Defense League of N.H., which has worn the pearls at gun-related hearings since 2016, starting at the hearing on a bill to allow concealed carry without a permit.
“At the hearing for constitutional carry in Reps Hall, three of us were dressed in business professional clothes, wearing pearls, and someone from Moms Demand said they wouldn’t testify because they felt they were in front of a firing squad,” Morin said. “So we’ve been wearing pearls in defense of women’s rights and the Women’s Defense League since then, because we are moms just like they are only on different sides.”
Members of the Women’s Defense League gave Gov. Chris Sununu a string of white pearls when he signed the concealed carry without a permit bill into law.
Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, was one of several Republican members of the House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety sporting a string of pearls at the hearing.
He said the pearls were handed out by members of the WDLNH as lawmakers and members of the public entered Representatives Hall. Many male members of the public could be seen wearing the pearls as well.
“They gave them out to a whole bunch of us,” said Welch, who said he agreed to the symbolic gesture because he opposes the bill.
Both sides came to the hearing with their symbols — strings of white pearls for opponents; red T-shirts for supporters — and both were well-represented by speakers and crowd support.
Watts stands by her statement that the pearls were designed as an affront to Moms Demand Action, and they took it that way.
“These lawmakers decided to wear symbols that essentially mocked the process,” she said.
“They made light of this very important law that has been passed in nine states in the past year, and signed by Republican and Democratic governors alike. They showed they were not coming to this hearing with an open mind, and they were making light of survivors who were testifying on the suicide of a child, or women who were survivors of domestic abuse.”