The organizers of the Million Mom March are demanding much stronger gun controls than political leaders have suggested so far.For nearly a decade, Tina Johnstone has waited for a day like this year’s Mother’s Day. In 1992, a teen-age mugger killed her husband. She used her grief to establish the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and The Bell Campaign, a victim advocacy group. Now, she has joined forces with the Million Mom March and serves as its Northeast coordinator.
She watches with elation as each day she reads a new list of the other mothers willing to forego their Mother’s Day brunches on May 14 to join thousands of others in Washington, D.C., demanding tougher gun control.
"They get it," crowed the 50-year-old mother of two. "They really, really get it."
Whether the nation’s political leaders "get it" is another matter. In the face of stiff opposition from the powerful gun lobby, two central demands of the Million Mom March –all handgun owners licensed and all handguns registered–is a reality still out in political left field.
The pro-gun-control mothers want handguns treated like cars. Just as drivers must apply for a license and pass a driver’s test, march organizers want gun owners to be required to apply for gun licenses and pass a firearms safety test. And just as cars are registered, they want the sale, ownership and transfer of guns registered with local or state authorities. This, they say, will enable authorities to trace the trail of ownership of guns used in crimes, and help identify straw purchasers-those who purchase guns legally and resell them to criminals or others not permitted to own them.
The organizers also argue for three other gun-control provisions: a cooling-off period, a limit on purchases and child-proof designs.
The so-called cooling off rule would require a person to wait several days after purchase before taking actual possession of the gun. This would not only provide time for a thorough background check, the organizers say, but also discourage impulsive use of firearms.
To curtail the black-market in guns, the organizers also advocate a limit of one handgun purchase per month per person, in order to prevent straw purchasers from buying guns in bulk.
The organizers also believe that gun makers should be required to design childproof guns with built-in safety locks. The latter is part of an overall demand that the gun industry be brought under the control of a consumer safety regulatory agency such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
If the Million Mom March is successful, it may mark a return to the political activism roots of Mother’s Day. According to historian Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were (BasicBooks, 1992), Mother’s Day originated in the nineteenth century women’s anti-war and public sanitation movement.
Aware that the Million Mom March has struck a political chord, politicians of both leading political parties are treading gingerly on the issue.
President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential front-runner Vice President Albert Gore stop short of supporting handgun Registration. They do, however, support mandatory safety locks, the cooling off period and a one-handgun-a-month policy. They also support licensing of new handgun owners, complete with photos.
In an interview with journalist Sam Donaldson, Clinton said that while there is a "strong argument" for gun registration, he didn’t think that it could get past the Republican-led Congress.
Texas Governor George W. Bush, the leading Republican candidate for president, opposes both licensing of handgun owners and registration of handguns.
"A central registry of law-abiding citizens will not reduce crime," said Bush spokesperson Dan Bartlett. Bush also opposes mandatory gun safety locks, although he says he would sign such a bill if it passed the legislature. Instead, he calls for more vigorous and stringent prosecution of those who use guns to commit crimes.
Local and state governments are breaking ranks with the national leadership, however.
Last week, Maryland’s legislature passed a measure requiring all guns sold in the state to have built-in safety locks.
And New York Republican Governor George Pataki recently proposed a five-point plan that included, among other proposals, a requirement for safety locks for all guns sold in New York and a requirement that manufacturers and dealers submit sample bullets and casings from all handguns sold in New York to a law enforcement data base.
Johnstone dismissed Pataki’s initiative as a political action. She said since most weapons used in gun crimes in New York come from states with laxer gun regulations, the Pataki plan, in the absence of tighter federal regulation, will have little effect.
Million Mom March organizers now estimate that at least 100,000 women will turn up for the march and claim that they get as many as 75,000 hits a day to their website and up to 3,500 calls a day to their central office in Washington D. C.
Right now, march organizers are very optimistic. "Don’t try to drive down to Washington," advises Johnstone with relish. "The traffic is going to be terrible."
For more information about the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C. onMay 14, and other events in cities across the United States, call (888)989-MOMS or visit their website at http://www.millionmommarch.com.