by Peggy Tartaro,
Editor, Women & Guns Magazine
The year 2000 saw a group boastfully calling itself the Million Mom March (MMM) opening up a new front in the continuing public policy debate over firearms in the US.
The groups founder, Donna Dees-Thomases, claimed to have been overcome by the televised sight of the Granada Hills, CA, daycare shooting incident, as well as the Columbine High School massacre.
But Dees-Thomases also claimed to be an apolitical, media-ignorant housewife from New Jersey.
While she was able to ride that self-characterization for a few months before the MMMs main eventa Mothers Day rally and march on the Mall in Washington, DCshe was eventually revealed to be a PR flack for CBS Television with ties to New York and national Democratic politics.
And, while the adjective Million sounds good in front of almost everything, even the MMMs fans in the media were forced to admit that they managed to turn out only about 1/10th of the number in the groups name. Some news outlets and observers, in fact, were even less charitable, putting turnout in DC at between 50,000-80,000.
Whatever the real number was, the MMM did re-ignite the gun debate in the US, at a time when it had seemed muted. Polling done after the Columbine shootings, for example, showed citizens opinions had not changed much more than 1% despite the intense media coverage.
But there still existed a gender gap on the gun issue, with women generally favoring stricter control of firearms and men preferring stricter enforcement of existing laws.
The exploitation of this gender gap is the core of the MMM strategy, and other anti-gunners seemed to be willing to cede the public field to them during the first six months of 2000.
I Said So
Leading up to the Mothers Day march the MMMers had the field pretty much to themselves and were able to enlist dozens of high profile celebrities to their cause, even if the cause itself was blurred.
Originally the group claimed to want only sensible gun laws, including trigger lock legislation and stricter restraints on gun show sales, both of which poll well with Americans who may not know what such schemes actually involve.
But as the media appearances multiplied, the groups agenda became clearer: federal registration and licensing of firearms. Dees-Thomases, making the rounds of virtually every morning and news show, became increasingly strident in her demands.
Among the many speakers at the Washington Rally, Newsweek and former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen summed up the MMM mantra. Why should members of Congress listen to us? she said, addressing the rally, Well, I will use the words I have used so many times to [her children] Because I said so! Because I said so!
The shrillness of the Moms seemed to have made even their admirers in the media nervous, and they cast about for an alternative view.
Fortunately, as the Million Mom March had begun to take shape and gain media attention, five women from across the country found one another on an Internet chat site. Convinced they could not be the only women in America who felt differentlyindeed almost exactly the opposite of the MMM groupthey resolved to stand up and be counted.
2nd Amendment Sisters
The group these women eventually formed, the Second Amendment Sisters (SAS), made a tremendous impact within a short time. And, unlike the MMM women, the Sisters were truly a grassroots organization.
While the MMM took its funding from traditional anti-gun moneybags, SAS didnt enjoy any lavish expense accounts. Media estimates were that the MMM spent $4 million on the March alone.
The Sisters also didnt involve themselves with other pro-gun organizations, allowing them to be perceived (as they actually were!) as entirely independent from such media bugaboos as the National Rifle Association.
Estimates of attendance at the Armed Informed Mothers March, sponsored by SAS, was put at 5,000 or under, but by Mothers Day, their impact was roughly equal to the Million Mom March. SAS members were allowed time on almost all of the Sunday morning political showsthose that didnt use the Sisters themselves, at least granted NRA access to their airwaves, presentingprobably for the first time evera very balanced view of the gun issue.
Texas State Rep. Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, a survivor of the 1991 Killeen, TX, Lubys massacre, and an articulate advocate for gun rights, keynoted the SAS Washington rally and also appeared in television interviews.
Following the Washington event, the MMM promised to continue their anti-gun quests, and quickly merged into the less well-known, but better funded Bell Campaign. Dees-Thomases was replaced by Bells Mary Leigh Blek as board chairman, and the Bell Campaign voted to rename itself the Million Mom March Foundation, although both groups continue to maintain separate websites (millionmommarch.org and bellcampaign.org). Dees-Thomases retains a seat on the new board, but most of the other members come from the Bell Campaign.
The newly created entity promised a presence at both party conventions this summer, but were mostly in evidence at the GOP conclave in Philadelphia, where they demonstrated, and, according to reports, harassed SAS members who were also present.
The MMM group also tried to parlay a little known yearly event, First Mondayin which public policy issues are debated on the first Monday in October, into another media coup. Here again, they were met with grassroots resolve, often including the Second Amendment Sisters.
One of the largest First Monday face-offs came in Pennsylvania, where pro-gun forces, including SAS, overwhelmingly outnumbered the antis who had tried to make the event their own.
The Moms claimed a 61% success rate in the November elections, taking credit particularly for the passage of gun show initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. Websites for the group do not reveal whether they plan a 2001 Mothers Day event, although it was their stated intention to make it an annual event in Washington. It is also unclear how active and effective the MMM chapter organizations are.
By contrast, SAS has continued to work hard at the grassroots level, staffing booths at gun shows, appearing on talk radio and getting involved in counter events like First Monday.
At the 15th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC) in Arlington, VA, this fall, SAS speakers were treated to standing ovations and awarded the Grassroots Organization of the Year Award.
The Second Amendment Sisters (www.sas-aimm.org) should be a shining example to all grassroots gun rights activists, men included. With little timeand less moneythey managed to make an enormous difference!
In other news in the world of women gunowners, Kim Rhode medalled in Womens Double Trap for the second straight Olympics. In Atlanta, Rhode had earned the first-ever gold medal in Double Trap; this year she came away with the bronze.
Nancy Johnson took the USAs only Olympic shooting gold in 10-Meter Air Rifle. Amazingly, Johnson had been told as a child to prepare for life in a wheelchair after she contracted a muscle-wasting disease, a story that would seem a natural for the kind of personal coverage the Olympics get, but which was almost universally ignored by the media.
Two books of interest were published in 2000. Susan Laws (aka Aimless Annie) brought out Cowgirl Action Shooting, dealing with the womens side of this fast growing sport. The book, $29.95 plus $4.00 shipping, is available from Aimless Enterprises. PO Box 1755, Dept. GWK, Wimberley, TX 78676. Laws is a contributing editor of Women & Guns magazine and an engaging advocate for her sport.
Also published in 2000 was Gun Women: Firearms and Feminism in Contemporary America, by Mary Zeiss Stange and Carol Oyster. Stange, the author of Woman the Hunter, is a humanities professor at Skidmore College, while Oyster is a statistician at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Their book addressesfrom a feminist and scholarly perspective, but in very readable detailthe rift between what might be termed practical and theoretical feminism factions and each groups view of guns.
The book is from New York University Press and in hardcover retails for $25.95. It is available from the Second Amendment Foundation and in major bookstores. I trust it gets the same scrutiny in the general press as Michael Bellesiles recent Arming America did. It would be wonderful to see Stange and Oyster make the case for gunownership on, say, Oprah.
The gender gap returned with the November elections, with those notorious exit polls showing women in favor of most anti-gun initiatives and a passel of anti-gun politicians.
New anti-gun US senators from twoand possibly threestates continue the myth of lock-stepped ladies solons.
In Washington State, it appears likely that Maria Cantwell, the Microsoft millionairess, has bested pro-gun GOP stalwart Slade Gorton. The new Democratic senator will probably take her cues from the states senior senator, anti-gunner Patty Murray.
Hillary Rodham Clinton took anti-gun Daniel Patrick Moynihans NY seat and Rep. Debbie Stabenow moved from the House to pro-gun Sen. Spencer Abrahams Michigan seat. Look for Clinton and Stabenow to follow the lead of screechy Californian Barbara Boxer in Senate debates; although Clinton will probably be allowed to rise to media preeminence on any issue she chooses.
And, despite her denials, issued just a week or two after the first election she ever won, Clinton should be campaigning for Democrat congressional candidates in 2002 with an eye towardgulp!New Hampshire in 2004.
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