This Nonprofit Founder Shares How She’s Standing Up to Gun Violence

kitty brandtner stands in front of the capitol with a sign that says "ban assault weapons now"

And why the last few weeks of the year are crucial for her mission.

Kitty Brandtner and her family were enjoying their neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade in Winnetka, Illinois when terror struck just a few towns over in Highland Park. Seven people were killed and 48 injured after an 18-year-old opened fire on unsuspecting parade-goers using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Brandtner knew she had to do something. Nine days after the shooting she mobilized 500 supporters for a rally on Capitol Hill and founded March Fourth, a nonpartisan and nonprofit advocacy group with a singular mission to federally ban assault weapons. We caught up with Brandtner to learn about the important work March Fourth is doing and their latest initiative to get the Senate to pass the Assault Weapons Ban before the end of the year.

Katie Couric Media: Tell us about your organization.

Kitty Brandtner: March Fourth is a 100 percent volunteer-run nonprofit with a singular goal of banning assault weapons federally. We don’t understand why military-style weapons designed to murder as many people as possible in a short amount of time are allowed to be accessed by civilians. It simply doesn’t make sense. We’ve united many communities impacted by mass shootings — sadly that list is extensive. We’ve also united common sense supporters on both sides of the aisle to push the government to pass the assault weapons ban, which already existed for 10 years and worked.

What inspired you to start this organization?

Sandy Hook was nearly 10 years ago. I didn’t have children at the time, but I think it rocked pretty much every American soul. In May, the Uvalde tragedy happened and I did have children. I was preparing to send my oldest to kindergarten and was faced with the reality that elementary schools are targets. It really sidelined me.

Then, a mass shooting occurred on the 4th of July a couple of towns away from my hometown. At the time, I was standing at our parade with my children while my friends were running for their lives with their children from an active shooter. I was sheltering in place from the active shooter who was at large while sobbing, wondering, Why are we living like this? What am I missing? Why can’t anything be done? Why is this normal? Why are we the only country in the world with a mass shooting epidemic?

I realized there wasn’t an answer for why people need an AR-15. I posted something on the 5th of July saying, “I think I want to go to D.C. and scream at the top of my lungs that I want a federal ban on assault weapons. Does anyone want to come with me?” I included my personal email. Then I went to bed. I woke up to hundreds of responses saying, “Yes, I’m in. Let’s do this.”

Within a week, we had over 500 people in D.C., including Highland Park survivors, Uvalde survivors, and victims’ families. We demanded a federal ban on assault weapons. We met with 20 legislators and following our march, we got a federal ban on assault weapons bill dusted off from a pile where it had been sitting in the house for a year and a half. It moved to the floor and passed through the House. We realized that our voices were being heard. Now, the only thing standing in the way — because the President will sign it and it has passed the House — is the Senate. The Senate can pass this bill. It doesn’t cost them any money, it isn’t hard. Surviving a mass shooting is hard. Losing someone and burying your child is hard. Voting yes to banning assault weapons is not hard. We’re compelling them to do just that.

kitty brandtner protesting
Kitty Brandtner speaking at a rally.

Why are you focused specifically on banning assault weapons?

The reason we’re pushing for an assault weapons ban is that a ban existed from 1994 to 2004 and there was a sharp decrease in mass shootings. When Congress let the bill expire in 2004, mass shootings spiked. When you look at many of the towns that have suffered mass shootings — Highland Park, Uvalde, Buffalo, and recently Colorado Springs — the common denominator is access to an assault weapon.

Assault weapons are designed to murder as many people as possible, as effectively as possible, as quickly as possible. If you shoot a deer with an AR-15, you cannot eat that deer because it’s been obliterated. There is no need for civilians to have access to these weapons. The fact that Uvalde parents had to submit DNA samples to identify their children after they were shot tells you everything you need to know. We’re not banning all guns. We’re asking for common sense legislation. We don’t have military-style tanks in our driveways and we don’t need assault weapons.

Why are the next few weeks so crucial to your work?

The next two weeks in December are the most important weeks of our lives. If we don’t pass this ban by the end of the year, our work starts from scratch. Next week, we’ll be bringing 60 physicians from 25 different states (many of whom have treated mass shooting victims, some of whom are survivors of mass shootings themselves) to D.C. We’ll declare a public health crisis, as guns are the number one killer of children in our country this year. We’ll explain how an assault weapons ban is a way to mitigate a little bit of that crisis.

We’ll be doing a silent protest against mass shootings in front of the people who can actually do something about it on Capitol Hill. We’ll also be meeting with some legislators to ensure that they know this is our top priority. This can’t wait and we’re not going away. Please don’t wait until this happens to you to join this movement. Don’t wait until this is in your community to decide that it’s important to vote yes. Do it before it impacts you. Do it for Uvalde, Highland Park, Parkland, and Sandy Hook.

How can people reading this support March Fourth’s mission?

Our site has a ton of really easy information to follow. You can find out if your senator is supportive of this ban. If they are, you can still call them and ask them to work to get more people on their side. If they’re unsupportive, you can call them and say, “Let’s not wait for a mass shooting in our backyard before we support this.” The calls work. If you’d like to volunteer or donate there are buttons on our site for that, too.