'Million Mom' Message
By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 9, 2000
They, too, are mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters who want children protected from gun violence and America made safer. And they, too, will arrive from across the country this weekend to mourn young gun victims and march in force on the Mall.
No one will confuse these women with the other group that will be demonstrating, at least not after they start talking about what they believe in.
"More guns make for a safer society," says one.
"Crooks love gun control," says a second.
"Even in the name of good intentions," says a third, "we're not going to sit around and let our rights be trampled."
This is how the Second Amendment Sisters, as they call themselves, are fighting back. When the Million Mom March begins Sunday on one side of the Washington Monument, they'll be on the other side both literally and figuratively--rallying at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW with their own stark statistics, gripping testimonials and commitment to the cause. They're hoping to balance the opposition's gun control arguments about handgun licensing, registration, background checks and trigger locks with a "pro-gun perspective" that emphasizes self-defense, parental responsibility and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
"This is a side of women that a lot of people didn't believe exists," explained Kimberly Watson, 37, a mother who's coming from Tallahassee, Fla., with her husband and 10-year-old son.
If they don't sound exactly like the NRA, organizers say it's because they've deliberately avoided the National Rifle Association's endorsement and money. Watson and four other women in New Jersey, Texas, Illinois and South Carolina are the force behind the Second Amendment Sisters. Back in December they were merely cyberspace acquaintances, grousing in an Internet chatroom about how the Million Mom March didn't speak for them. Then one on-line discussion led to another and the five began planning their own counter-event.
They dubbed it the Armed Informed Mothers' March.
And their AIMM spread. Through gun shows and gun clubs, but especially through a Web site (www.sas-aim.org) designed for maximum shock value. Last month the site displayed a woman in tailored business attire with a cordless phone in one hand and a rifle in the other. The caption read: "Two shots to stop. One to make sure. Re-load. Call 911."
The founders say more than 35,000 people have contacted them since February for information or to lend support. For the Mall event, they've raised $40,000, enough to cover such expenses as stage rentals, sound equipment and portable toilets. Every day on their toll-free telephone number, they say, new women leave "Thank God" calls--as in, "Thank God someone feels the way I do." Some have organized local rallies that will be held simultaneously in nearly a dozen cities.
Several months ago, the sisters' most optimistic attendance estimate for the Washington demonstration was 1,000. With marchers now confirmed from as far as California and Alaska, they are cheerfully unsure of how that turnout will grow.
Yet the total will pale compared with the 150,000-plus crowd the Million Mom March expects. If their numbers seem small, the Second Amendment Sisters have a ready explanation: The MMM enjoys a national office, a national publicity machine, a celebrity network and big-name fundraising connections with the national Democratic Party.
"We do not have a PR firm," emphasized Pennsylvania coordinator Maria Heil, 39. "We are truly the grassroots effort."
Heil shoots sporting clays and carries a concealed handgun, but it would be dangerous to portray her as a pistol-packin' mama. Stereotypes of any kind are risky here. The women supporting the Second Amendment Sisters hold jobs that range from desktop publisher to flight attendant to systems analyst to stay-at-home mom. Some own shotguns and rifles for hunting. Some own handguns for self-defense. Some own all of the above--or none at all, but they defend what they consider an inviolable constitutional right.
They are neither redneck nor racist, they say. They drive cars, not Harleys. "I am a professional," said Juli Bednarzyk of Chicago, a software consultant with a political science and sociology degree on her wall and a loaded 9mm semiautomatic under her bed. "I resent greatly being portrayed as the opposite."
"We're normal people. We lead normal lives," said Maryland coordinator Christy King, who works in information technology. "I'm not running through the house yelling 'Guns, guns, guns.' "
In fact, the 29-year-old mother of two keeps no firearms at home in Mechanicsville, though she grew up around them and took a gun safety course during elementary school in West Virginia. "We were taught the basic respect for what they were--they're not toys," she said. The admonition to children about matches and fire applies, to her thinking, just as aptly to guns. "Government can legislate all they want, but it doesn't do anything," she said. "It's parental responsibility."
In the post-Columbine High School era, when headlines about school shootings and gun violence seem ever more horrifying and endless, the Second Amendment Sisters accuse the Million Mom March of collective irresponsibility, of using gun statistics to terrify Americans in general and suburban mothers in particular. One number has become the gun control advocates' central campaign line--that every day in America, 12 children are killed by guns.
The gun-rights women consider the statistic both hyped and disingenuous.
Here's how it breaks down according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which both sides cite. In 1997, the most recent year for which data are available, 630 children up to the age of 14 died in firearms incidents. Of those, 142 were recorded as unintentional deaths, 127 as suicides, 347 as homicides and 14 as undetermined. That averages 1.7 deaths a day.
The dozen-a-day toll adds up only when older teens are factored in--those up to 19, who, the Second Amendment Sisters contend, are far more adult than child. Of the 3,593 young Americans 15-19 who were fatally shot, nearly two-thirds died in homicides. "They're drug and gang-related shootings," said Maryland Del. Carmen Amedori (R-Carroll), who will be on stage Sunday at the gun-rights rally. "I take offense when people try to escalate the numbers."
Other CDC statistics show that firearms injuries and deaths decreased significantly across all ages from 1993 to 1997. Even the homicide rate for young men 15 to 19 dropped sharply from its peak, although at 22.6 deaths per 100,000 teens in that age group, it remains well above the 1985 rate of 13 per 100,000.
So what the other side is proposing simply won't work, said Melinda Gierisch, 30, of Sterling, who is Virginia's leader for the pro-gun force this weekend. "As an engineer, I want solutions that work. . . . Criminals will simply not register their guns."
As the Million Mom March offers up numerous mothers who have lost children to shootings, the Second Amendment Sisters will have testimonials, too.
Carma Lewis loved her son Joey as much as any mother ever loved a child. And on New Year's Eve 1991 in rural Utah, when the 12-year-old was killed in front of his brothers by a troubled adolescent just back from hunting rabbits, her entire family fell to pieces.
She never blamed the gun, she said, instead suggesting, "If you have a heart that's evil . . ."
Now a 52-year-old grandmother in Mesa, Ariz.--with a Glock in her house and a revolver in her car--Lewis is one of her state's coordinators for the Second Amendment Sisters. She will fly to Washington on Thursday and speak about Joey much of the weekend.
"Honestly," she said of the Million Mom March, "they're playing on emotions. . . . I would imagine they would like to make my son a poster child for gun control. That's not going to happen."
Peoples Rights Return Top Return