by Peggy Tartaro,
Executive Editor, Women & Guns Magazine
The Million Mom March (MMM) for gun control fell well short of its eponymous number, but still rallied more demonstrators than expected at an event on the National Mall in Washington, DC, May 14. The march also managed to capture national and local media attention for much of the week leading up to it, including the Sunday morning TV talk shows.
However, the much smaller Second Amendment Sisters Armed Informed Mothers March (SAS-AIMM), led by newly-minted grassroots activists, held its own with the bigger, glitzier and much better financed MMM event.
Million Mom organizers claimed between 500,000 and 750,000 participants at their event, and SAS said they had 5,000 people. News service reports cautiously put the crowd for the MMM at hundreds of thousands, while counting the AIMM event as much smaller.
On Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported attendance as 150,000, while The Buffalo News said the MMM drew 100,000. There were also even lower estimates.
The National Park Service, which oversees such events no longer gives official estimates, following a dispute over attendance at the Nation of Islams Million Man March several years ago. Many of the attendees on May 14, especially to the MMM, were undoubtedly localfrom surrounding Maryland and Virginia. Those participants most likely relied on DCs Metro service, which said ridership for May 14 was upbut only about 80,000 more than a typical spring Sunday.
The celebrity-heavy MMM event featured talk show host Rosie ODonnell as MC, and boasted a huge, professional stage and giant TV screen hook-up, over which President and Mrs. Clinton addressed the march. The President urged participants to overcome the political mountain to achieve their aims and told them, dont be deterred by intimidation, dont be deterred by the screaming, presumably a reference to gun rights advocates. Mrs. Clinton, a senate candidate in New York, did not appear on the stage, but did attend the event, leaving after the crush of well-wishers forced her to a nearby area where she shook hands before making her way to the Capitol. The Clintons hosted a pre-March event at the White House, with photo-ops of children in strollers and relatives of crime victims.
Other speakers at the MMM were a mix of celebrities and family members of crime victims. Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, addressed the crowd, but for the most part, anti-gun political figures did not appear on the stage. Among the celebrities, viewers of the event, which was broadcast on CSPAN, were treated to the bizarre spectacle of rocker Courtney Love haranguing for handgun licensing and registration. Loves husband, heroin-addicted Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, committed suicide with a shotgun, and Love herself has had several run-ins with the law.
Although MMM organizers sought to portray themselves as seekers of reasonable and sensible gun safety solutions, focusing particularly on mandatory gun lock laws, they also repeatedly called for federal handgun licensing and registration. Neither speakers nor the groups website (millionmommarch.org) made clear how such an unprecedented scheme would work, ignoring the question of whether federal registration would supercede state and local licensing, and whether, in fact such a proposal might have an unintended consequencenational reciprocity.
Slate.com, an on-line magazine, which features a daily roundup of major US newspapers front pages, described coverage as long on touching tales of victims and survivors short on details of the Marchs aims, and their feasibility.
The MMM audience and speakers also missed few opportunities to vilify gunowners generally and the National Rifle Association (NRA) particularly. As the March broke up, the audience took up the chant, Time Out Chair for LaPierre, a reference to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. (The groups website also features a graphic of a time-out chaira common parental punishment these daysfor LaPierre.)
When SAS marchers moved from their location near the Washington Monument toward Capitol Hill, they were heckled by MMMers, some of whom shouted murderers at the SAS group, according to one person in attendance. Associated Press reported heckled chants of No NRA. Your stupid guns kill."
Although much smaller, the SAS demonstration provided an effective media counterpoint to the MMM event. AP noted, The gun control advocates didnt have the day to themselves.
CSPAN also broadcast the SAS-AIMM event, following coverage of the MMM rally. Speakers included SAS organizer Kimberly Watson, SAS state coordinator Debra Collins, Texas state Legislator Suzanna Gratia-Hupp and Yale economist John Lott.
Watson welcomed attendees and described the genesis of SAS, whose five woman leaders were unknown to each other until they met on an Internet news site which was discussing the Million Mom March. They hastily put their organization together and developed plans for a counter event. Watson stressed that, unlike the MMM group with a 75 line phone bank, and financial backing from major corporations, political organizations and charitable foundations, they relied solely on grassroots activists for small donations. The SAS website is www.sas-aim.org, or they may be reached at 18484 Preston Road, Suite 102, #141, Dallas, TX 75252; toll-free: 877-271-6216.
Collins, who saved her own life with an illegal handgun during a violent home invasion by her abusive ex-husband, told the crowd her dramatic story, noting that if she had not accepted a gun from a friend, she would have been dead two hours later when the incident took place.
Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, described and debunked many of the myths surrounding gun controllers claims, particularly those which aver that privately-held firearms are more likely to be used against owners than criminals.
Other speakers included a police officer who noted that an off-duty car-jacking he was involved in would not have ended favorably if he had not been armed. Also speaking were Janalee Tobias, president of Women Against Gun Control, naturalized Americans who spoke eloquently of life in gun-controlled countries, and several elected officials.
Neal Knox, a veteran of over four decades in the gun rights struggle, who attended the days events, noted admiringly that most of those in attendance at the SAS rally were new faces to him, people who did not come out of previously organized gun rights groups, such as state associations. That bodes well for pro-gun forces who need to reach more diverse audiences.
The Million Mom Marchers had the media field pretty much to themselves until the week before the event. In addition to ODonnell, who flogged the March for months, the most visible spokeswoman was organizer Donna Dees-Thomases.
Dees-Thomases, who for months styled herself as an ordinary suburban mom with no political experience galvanized into action by media images of the Granada Hills, CA, day care shooting, was revealed to be something quite different. Several days before the March, information about Dees-Thomases disclosed that she was on leave of absence from her job as a publicist for CBS. Dees-Thomases is also the sister-in-law of Democratic fund-raiser and activist Susan Thomases, a crony of the Clintons.
And, unlike some of the MMMers who sought to portray themselves as mothers seeking sensible solutions, Dees-Thomases was extremely combative in many of her media appearances over the weekend, particularly when challenged by others. On NBCs Meet The Press, she and NY Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) were paired with LaPierre and GA Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). While McCarthy, probably one of the most anti-gun members of Congress, stressed compromise, Dees-Thomases continually interrupted Barr and LaPierre and event host Tim Russert.
In addition to the NBC program, LaPierre was featured on CBS Face the Nation and CNNs Late Edition. NRA board member Susan Howard, who co-stars with NRA President Charlton Heston in new ads touting NRAs million dollar contribution to school gun safety, appeared on Fox News Sunday.
On ABCs This Week, Cokie Roberts interviewed Rosie ODonnell at the March site, while George Will talked with Gratia-Hupp.
SAS member Robin Ball, who owns a gun store with her husband in Spokane, WA, was a guest on CSPANs Weekend Journal program, where she deftly handled calls on the gun issue for nearly 45 minutes. When Ball didnt know the answer, she said so; but in most instances she was well-informed and articulate. She even made mention of the NICS shutdown (see related story in this issue) which halted gun sales almost 68 hours.
Cities across the nation held smaller Million Mom events, some of which were countered by local gun rights activists. In Los Angeles, on-scene observers said pro- and anti-gun forces were about equal, at 1,000 a side. Many of the local gatherings were coordinated by well-financed MMM organizers, and sported uniform signage, messages and locally-known figures. In contrast, most of the low-budget counter demonstrations at local events were more hastily arranged by pro-gun grassroots activists in individual areas.
Tulsa, OK, also had competing events. However, those aligned with the Million Mom March stressed that they were interested only in MMMs gun safety message and that they rejected the national groups call for licensing. This is not about licensing or registration, said Tulsa DA Tim Harris. Thats where we part ways from the national march, he said, according to The Tulsa World.
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