'Million Mom March' organizers hope to spur congressional action on gun legislation
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Thousands of mothers from across the country are expected to gather in Washington on Sunday for the "Million Mom March" in an effort to convince lawmakers to take action on gun control legislation that has languished in Congress for nearly a year.
"We are going to march on Sunday to simply say to Congress and to the world that we have got to stop this madness," said Jaquie Algee, Georgia State Coordinator of the Mother's Day event. "We've got to save our children."
"I hope it will prompt Congress to act," President Bill Clinton said Monday, after a somber meeting with group organizers.
"It is unconscionable: It's now over a year after Columbine and over 10 months since they've had a chance to pass this legislation," Clinton said in a reference to the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Organizers anticipate that nearly 100,000 women and men -- many of them parents of children who died in acts of gun violence -- will march on the nation's capital, and similar marches will take place in more than 60 cities throughout the country to draw attention to the issue.
Justice Department statistics indicate that 12 children are killed each day by gun violence, despite the fact that the crime rate is at its lowest in years.
"I hope their presence here and throughout the country will be successful," Clinton said of the march, adding that he was "frustrated" and "sad" that Congress has failed to move on the bill, and predicting that the group would succeed if it persists in its efforts.
"They're going to be here and in over 60 other cities on Mother's Day, marching for common-sense gun safety legislation, asking Congress to act, building on the grassroots efforts that have brought success and the petition drive in Colorado and the legislatures of Maryland, Massachusetts and California," the president said of the marchers' efforts and of recent state-level successes by gun safety advocates.
Passage of the gun legislation remains a priority for Clinton, who has less than a year remaining in his term.
While both the House and Senate have passed their own bills, lawmakers cannot reach agreement on certain key issues, among them the length of time alloted to conduct background checks for purchases made at gun shows.
The Clinton Administration is seeking a 72-hour waiting period, while Republicans favor a 24-hour time frame. Currently, gun buyers making purchases in stores are required to undergo background checks.
Gun groups -- including the National Rifle Association -- strongly oppose the 72-hour waiting period, and instead are seeking to focus congressional efforts on increased enforcement of existing gun laws.
"If you look at the specifics of the legislation before Congress, it's a huge majority of the American people for it," Clinton said Monday. "And I think what all these folks are going to remind them of on Mother's Day is that they're watching and they want action, and this is not an issue that can be dealt with in business as usual and buried for the benefit of an interest group. It needs to be resolved, and I hope it will be."
March organizers are seeking to license and register all handguns, provisions not included in the pending legislation, but supported by Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
"We're not asking to ban guns. That's a person's right," Algee told CNN Monday.
The group also supports a "cooling off period" for gun purchases -- as well as requiring handgun safety locks, limiting gun purchases to one per month, and what they call "no nonsense" enforcement of existing gun laws.
"We license drivers and we register automobiles. And we think that in terms of gun ownership we should ask and necessarily require the same be applied. We're not asking that people get rid of their guns," said Algee, whose teen-age son was a victim of gun violence.
But NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said that licensing will not have the intended effect on lowering gun-related deaths. "Only the honest people are going to come in and license their firearms with the federal government. The criminals could care less," he said on NBC's "Today Show," one of two early morning talk show appearances Monday by the NRA official.
While Million Mom March organizers have no official plans to lobby Congress, some march participants may head to lawmakers' offices to drive their messages home, said event spokeswoman Judy Slotnik.
The march is the brainchild of a New Jersey mother, Donna Dees-Thomases, who conceived of the idea as she watched footage of shootings at an area day camp.
"This started in my family room and has grown to a mantra across the nation," said Dees-Thomases. "There is nothing more powerful than a mother's drive to protect her children. Mothers across the country are harnessing that energy, and it is their passion that will have the impact here."
The event begins at 10 a.m. Eastern on the National Mall in Washington and runs throughout the day Sunday. Actress Rosie O'Donnell is slated to emcee the event, and other celebrities, performers, moms and youth activists will also speak.
Sisterhood is powerful
A group known as the "Second Amendment Sisters" will hold a counter demonstration on the Mall Sunday, underscoring the message that not all mothers favor new gun control mandates. The group will also march to the Capitol.
Second Amendments Sisters, Inc. is a Dallas-based group founded by five women. The group supports gun safety and gun education programs, but contends that licensing and registration is "counterproductive."
"We all own firearms or know someone who does," said Debra Collins, the group's coordinator in Colorado.
Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, a conservative group, is expected to speak at that event, as well as women across the country who contend that individual gun ownership saves lives.
State Rep. Suzzana Gratia Hupp (R-Texas) is one of the women expected to speak. Hupp became a proponent of the concealed weapons laws when she witnessed the 1991 shooting of several patrons at a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.
"I think those folks are very well-intentioned, but just terribly misguided," Hupp said of the Million Mom March organizers. "I know from personal experience that by the very definition, the only people who obey those laws are the good guys. The bad guys don't obey the law. Those things are an absolute waste of legislative paper."
"I know for a fact that for instance five gallon buckets kill more children than guns do, and yet nobody's talking about enacting some kind of a locking mechanism on those," Hupp said.
"When it comes to background checks and other legislation, I have to go back and think to myself, you know these folks that are talking about enacting this legislation took an oath of office to protect the Constitution, to protect and uphold the Constitution. And without sounding too cliche, what part of 'shall not be infringed' don't they understand?" Hupp added.
The NRA's LaPierre echoed her comments, saying: "What would be more effective is also taking this week to put 100 percent prosecution of violent felons with guns, drug dealers with guns, and violent gangs with guns out there," "And then put a big advertising program so every
violent felon, drug dealer, violent gang member knows the deal:
If you touch a gun, you're going to jail," he said, referring to the gun lobby's position on stricter enforcement of existing gun laws.
The NRA this week has pledged $1 million for child gun safety programs, and challenged the Million Mom March participants to do the same in a series of television ads airing throughout the country. The move is not intended to take the spotlight away from the mom's LaPierre explained on ABC's "Good Morning America." If the march participants don't contribute, the NRA will still provide the funds.
"Let's use this week to put firearm safety education in every elementary classroom in America so young kids know if they see a gun what to do: stop, don't touch it, leave the area, call an adult," LaPierre said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "And we've written a $1 million check in a set-aside fund, to be audited by Pricewaterhouse, to take the first big step toward that goal," he explained.
"We're pro-mom," LaPierre said on NBC. "What we want to do is see this week used for something positive so at the end of the week we come out with something that really does save lives, and this is something that would do it.
"This week let's put politics aside," NRA President Charlton Heston says in one ad, which implores Americans to focus on gun safety rather than legislative mandates.