What a few good women can do

On Mother's Day, a million mothers will march for gun control.

Published March 13, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Every so often in life, you encounter a brilliant idea. Usually, at least in my case, it's somebody else's idea.

Organ donation, for example, is a brilliant idea. A person who, tragically, no longer needs an organ, gives it to someone who would otherwise die without it: Brilliant.

Or City Harvest, the New York program that picks up excess food from hotels and restaurants where it would otherwise be thrown away and delivers it to soup kitchens and shelters, thus enabling the city's poor to share in the culinary riches the wealthy enjoy daily: Brilliant.

So last fall, when I first read about the Million Mom March, a Mother's Day demonstration in Washington to protest the vast number of guns in our culture and the ease with which they can be procured, I thought ... well, first I thought: "Why didn't I think of that?" Then I thought: Brilliant.

The person whose idea it was is Donna Dees-Thomases, a New Jersey mother and a part-time publicist for David Letterman. Dees-Thomases' children attend preschool at a Jewish community center -- a preschool not unlike the one in Granada, Calif., where, last August, a white supremacist decided to "send a message" by shooting at kids.

A week after the JCC shooting, Dees-Thomases applied for a permit to march on the Washington Mall. Then she started calling her friends. Says Dees-Thomases: "It was my idea for about five minutes."

The Million Mom March was launched with a press conference on -- symbolically enough -- Labor Day. In keeping with the pregnancy theme, the 25 mothers at the press conference challenged Congress to use the nine months before Mother's Day to enact what they call "common-sense" gun legislation.

Personally, I would love to see every gun on the planet disappear. But the Million Mom platform isn't calling for an outright ban on handguns. This march is about the no-brainer stuff: equipping all handguns with safety locks and childproofing devices; licensing and registering each handgun; requiring background checks and cooling-off periods before the purchase of a handgun; and limiting handgun purchases to one per month per person. It is hard to believe that responsible gun owners would want anything less.

In nine months, Dees-Thomases announced at the press conference, thousands of mothers would march on Washington, either in celebration of such laws having been passed, or -- in the more likely event of Congress' continued inactivity on this issue -- to reiterate the demand for them.

It's hard to imagine a barrage of objections to Dees-Thomases' proposals. Aren't we sick of it already? Haven't we had enough of the carnage caused by guns? Ten-year-olds sharpshooting their classmates? Surly adolescents opening fire in the lunchroom? The "disgruntled former employee" looking to go out in a blaze of glory? A 6-year-old looking to settle a score on the playground?

And what about the more than 4,000 children who die in gun-related accidents each year? That's 11 kids a day. And we're not talking about crimes, or intentional shootings. We're talking -- or not talking enough -- about accidents.

In March 1996, a paranoid loser took his arsenal into an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and murdered 16 children and their teacher. The British were not silent in their outrage. Though guns in the United Kingdom were already relatively scarce, less than a year passed before an act of Parliament all but banned them. (It's almost quaint to note the few guns exempted by this law: starter's pistols, guns intended for the humane slaughter of animals and pistols for use in recognized pistol clubs, to be locked and stored in the clubs when not in use.)

In this country, by contrast, this sensitive and decisive response to tragedy seems to be out of the question. Where is our outrage?

The Million Mom March takes a big-tent approach to generating support for gun legislation: Its organizers believe that women from a broad political spectrum can and do agree that guns ought to be both regulated and rare.

I'm looking forward to meeting people who disagree with me about everything under the sun except, for example, the notion that each gun manufactured in this country ought to be outfitted with one of the 30 existing patented devices designed to help childproof it. Even more, I look forward to the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of mothers (and others) converging on the Capitol. And perhaps most of all, I await with keen anticipation the spin that G. Gordon Liddy and his ilk will employ in order to demonize scores of mothers and their children.

"Jack-booted soccer moms," perhaps?

Yes, there will be celebrities (Rosie O'Donnell has already RSVP'd). And yes, I'm sure a couple of rock stars will drop by to serenade us between the speeches, and yes, we will be joined by those members of Congress whose political convictions match our own.

There will be the mothers and fathers of children whose lives have been devastated by guns. (Some of those mothers and fathers will travel all the way from Dunblane.)

And then there will be the rest of us: those of us who know that our children are just as vulnerable to gun violence as anyone else so long as we continue to allow easy access to handguns.

Naturally, no march on Washington would be complete without its counter-demonstration. The Armed Informed Mothers (that's AIM for short), an offshoot of an organization called Second Amendment Sisters, will be there to let Congress know that they "won't stand for having our right to defend our families ripped away."

According to this group, the Million Moms have all been persuaded that guns fire themselves. AIM has put a new spin on the old adage: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Their new version goes like this: "Any inanimate object will just sit there until a person picks it up. What they do with it depends on what kind of respect they've been taught for human life."

To me, respect for human life begins with making it more difficult to obtain an inanimate object that is designed to snuff it out.

So when Mother's Day rolls around May 14, I'm getting on the bus. Tough as it might sound to leave town on the only day of the year my children are obligated by law to be nice to me, I find it more important to spend the day making things a little better -- a little safer -- for them.


By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jean Hanff Korelitz is the author of the novel "The Sabbathday River," published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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Gun Control Guns Mother's Day