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A Mother's Day Million Mom March:
Will the Assault Weapons Ban be Renewed?

by Jo Freeman

 Less than one thousand people gathered on the West Lawn of the US Capitol for a Mother's Day rally preceding the second Million Mom March. This was the first event in a nationwide tour to encourage Congress to renew the assault weapons ban due to expire on September 13.

The federal law banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed in 1994. These guns are largely semiautomatic versions of fully automatic guns designed for military use. They have been used in several mass shootings of civilians, including children, in the US. Law enforcement agencies favor continuance of the ban but the National Rifle Association does not.

Firearms deaths increased throughout the 1980s and peaked in 1993 at 39,595. After 1994, when the Brady Law and the Assault Weapons Act became law, annual firearms deaths decreased by 25 percent to 29,573 in 2001. A survey by the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency) showed that the use of assault weapons in crime went from 4.82 percent before passage of the Assault Weapons Act, to 1.61 percent afterwards.

Despite the apparent success of limited gun control, the political environment is no longer the same.

The first Million Mom March brought several hundred thousand people to the Mall on Mother's Day of 2000 and launched a national organization devoted to gun control. Organized by people with little or no prior activism for an issue that was not yet politicized, it received support from elected officials in both major parties.

Four years later, any kind of gun control has a partisan hue. Although President Bush pledged to renew the Assault Weapons Ban in 1999 when he was a candidate, both signs and speakers were lightly anti-Bush in tone. President's Bush's name was on "Vote Bush Out!" postcards distributed at the rally and there were opportunities to bash Bush.

Men wearing "Women for Kerry" stickers stood at the entrances to the West Lawn asking participants to sign up to receive daily Kerry campaign e-mails. Bush has not spoken out on assault weapons since then, but Republican Congressional leaders have stated that there will be no renewal bill for him to sign into law this year.

Those who organized and came to the 2000 march were overwhelmingly white,
suburban soccer moms. The few hundred people who gathered in 2004 were at
least a quarter black, the chief sponsor was a magazine aimed at African - American women, and a large percentage of the speakers were black.

Jesse Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 1984 and 1988, was the featured speaker and March leader. His remarks ranged from religion to politics, from Iraq to the need to defeat Bush in November. "In [the] four years since we first met here, we've lost 120,000 lives, more than 500,000 injured, at the cost of $100 billion. It's time to change the policy, and down the street change the leadership."

Diane Weathers, editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, a lifestyle magazine for African-american women, said that "African American women know all too well the damage that guns can do. African American men are 6 percent of the population and 47 percent of the homicide deaths." Essence was a co-sponsor and financial backer of this rally and march.

Apart from the political message, most speakers told personal stories of loved ones, usually children, killed by guns. Folk Singer Peter Yarrow and his daughter Bethany dedicated their songs to slain Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein. Many in the march carried signs or wore t-shirts memorializing the deceased. Off to one side of the speaker's stage was a Wall of Remembrance for people to post notes on "Why I Am Marching."

On the other side of the lawn various organizations sat behind their own tables. Coaches Against Gun Violence, a project of the Alliance for Justice wants every coach to dedicate one athletic game a season to the prevention of gun violence.
Some organizations were aimed at mothers. The Global Coalition for Peace wants to organize a "world wide community of mothers to support each other in raising their children within a framework of non-violence. Mothers Acting Up declares itself "an advocate for the world's children."

As the sun beat down on the first really hot day in DC, there was almost enough shade on the edges for the crowd to cluster under, leaving vast gaps in the audience in front of the stage. Because of the heat and the length of the program, the MC asked for a voice vote on whether to march or listen to the rest of the speakers. The crowd overwhelmingly voted to march, and sometime after 3:00 left the West Lawn for the Washington Monument.

The march was small but spirited, led by a local high school band and several baton twirlers in skin-tight gold leotards and high white boots. The largely amateur signs expressed such sentiments as "The weapons of mass destruction are not in Iraq. They are in the hands of our children." and" Real men don't need assault weapons." Bringing up the rear was a 26 foot recreational vehicle painted hot pink with the MMM logo on it. This vehicle will make the actual tour, with local groups hosting events along the way.

While the "Moms" were rallying on the Capital lawn, the Second Amendment Sisters counter protested a mile away at Freedom Plaza. SAS was formed in December of 1999, after announcement of the first Mom march, in order to "put a woman's face" on opposition to gun control. 5,000 counter protested in 2000; only a few dozen came to the Plaza in 2004. The route of the Mom march took it two blocks from the SAS rally, but the latter had dispersed before the former even started. Instead the Mom march was greeted by a six person "Tyranny Response Team" as it ended on the Monument lawn. One sign said "Axis of Evil: Abortion, Gun Control and the Patriot Act."

The Mall was fully occupied on Mother's Day, because so many events had been scheduled. On the other side of the reflecting pool from the MMM rally, about a hundred people did exercises in commemoration of annual Falun Dafa Day. Also known as Falun Gong, this discipline was introduced on May 13, 1992. It spread in China until it frightened the ruling Communist Party, which has tried to suppress the practice since 1999. All the publicity the suppression brought Falun Gong caused it to spread internationally.

In a large tent a block away numerous federal agencies set up exhibits for Public Service Recognition Week. Next to them the military services had their own exhibits, including tanks, helicopters and guns. Access to these booths required going through a metal detector.

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