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Million Mom March Founder Donna Dees-Thomases Discusses Gun Control Efforts

Aired May 15, 2000 - 2:32 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Supporters of tighter gun control laws are hoping Sunday's Million Mom March will raise more political interest in the issue. Tens of thousands of moms and their families marched in dozens of cities across the country. In Los Angeles, police estimate 2,000 to 3,000 people marched downtown. They then listened as local officials read the names of 143 children killed by guns in Los Angeles County last year.

In Texas, many protesters called for a repeal of a state law signed by George W. Bush which allows people to carry concealed weapons. They also pushed for licensing and registration of handguns.

And in Washington, it was the big one. March participants filled a half-dozen blocks in the National Mall area. Some estimates put it at 700,000 people marching. There they listened to talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, politicians, celebrities, and several women took the stage who lost loved ones to gun violence.

Well, joining us with more on the Million Mom March is the event's founder. She is Donna Dees-Thomases.

And you must be exhausted a little bit today, Donna.

DONNA DEES-THOMASES, MILLION MOM MARCH: I'm running on empty right now, but I'm just absolutely thrilled. I really thought that, at our highest number, it would be 200,000 people on the mall. And in the last count, it was 750,000 people, and that was just beyond our wildest expectations. So I think that really reflects that we are the majority of American who want stricter gun control.

ALLEN: It was an incredible day. I was there covering it and I talked with you behind the stage and then you and I walked as you took your first glimpse of the crowd there, because you had even told me that you couldn't go up there yet. It was just too much for you to see all the people there. What did it feel like to look out and see all those people?

DEES-THOMASES: I think it is proof that one person can do something if she has her mind set to it. And if you have women behind you, look what we can do. We got 750,000 people on the Mall and thousands of others across the country to say that we demand stronger gun laws. And even today, we still have people logging onto our Web site,, saying they want to stay involved, and we plan to keep this alive.

ALLEN: President Clinton said to your group, "Do not be deterred by the screaming, the intimidation. Don't be deterred by the political mountain you have to climb."

It really is a political mountain, isn't it? How do you take that emotion and that incredible, passionate day that we saw yesterday and translate that into real power against the gun lobby?

DEES-THOMASES: I don't think it's going to be that big of a challenge because we have women across the country phoning our national office still saying, OK, what next? I want to stay involved. They're just looking for direction. So we plan to put in place the next few weeks an organization, a grass-roots lobbying group that will help mothers go out and survey their congressmen, their statehouse representatives to find out how they stand on such basic, common-sense gun policy like licensing and registration so that we can make informed decisions November 2000.

ALLEN: We talked with people, also, at much smaller rallies, the other end of the Mall, the Second Amendment Sisters.

DEES-THOMASES: Much smaller.

ALLEN: Yes, about 2,000 people -- gathered people that are gun advocates and that don't think that the laws that your group is proposing will work. And we want to let you listen to one of the people I interviewed about that. So let's listen to a man who lost his daughter in a shootout, but he still opposes new gun laws.


NORMAN BROWNIE, GUN RIGHTS SUPPORTER: The gun laws, the registration and licensing which has been in Detroit for 30 years -- 40 years, actually, since before I was there -- has never prevented the criminal element from having guns. In fact, it exacerbates the problem by making the general public unarmed and unable to protect themselves. Gun -- for a perfectly ordinary, law-abiding citizens, it takes them three months to obtain a permit to purchase and then to obtain a pistol. The average 14- or 15-year-old gang banger can get one in three minutes out of the trunk of somebody's car, the basement of a crack house.

So the registration and licensing is absolutely not the answer. We had 415 murders in Detroit just last year, according to FBI statistics, and we lead the nation in car theft, and a lot of those are accomplished at the point of a gun in Detroit, too. So we're looking for effective laws. If anybody could show me that registration and licensing was effective, I'd jump on the band wagon in a minute. Never has been. It's like trying to control a wolf problem with leash laws.


ALLEN: I did talk with a lot of people that said the same thing. And they said of your march, these moms sound so great, so sincere, so nice, but they don't believe what you're proposing will work.

DEES-THOMASES: Well, sadly, the facts are on our side, because 40 out of the 50 states in this country have poor, almost no gun laws really on the books. There's only a handful of states that actually have licensing and registration and it's proven to work with limits. The problem is that we do not have national licensing and registration, so people go to one state that doesn't have these laws and they bring the guns into another state. So what we need is a minimum national standard across the board.

ALLEN: Have you heard from any of the legislators that you were targeting yesterday. Has anyone reacted to this event?

DEES-THOMASES: Oh, I think we've got them riled up. I've been personally attacked now by Bob Barr, who has called this a conspiracy, and maybe I'm going to be subpoenaed by somebody. I have no idea. I think they are out of control right now because they feel the heat. They know that we mean business and we're going to show it November 2000.

ALLEN: You really put this event together so quickly, if people don't know the story, you were moved by the shooting at the day care center in Los Angeles last August. You had two children, you decided you were going to do something, and you said that -- to me when we talked before, don't underestimate the power of moms. You feel like they really came through for you yesterday?

DEES-THOMASES: We put this together strictly through volunteers, and that's why it's insulting for when people like Bob Barr say that this was a conspiracy done by the White House. That is insulting to the thousands of women across the country who have done this at a grass-roots level. They put up flyers, they've made phone calls, they've spoken at the PTAs. This is truly a person's, a female's, mom's, others' movement. Real people who care about this issue have done this and it's absolutely incredible and so emotionally moving.

ALLEN: I can imagine especially for you who thought all of this up.

Donna Dees-Thomases, thank you for joining us.


ALLEN: And I'll have much more on the Million Mom March tonight on "NEWSSTAND." We will take a behind-the-scenes look at the founding of the Mom's movement and these issues that will drive it from here. That's 10:00 p.m. Eastern, and again at 10:00 Pacific.



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