One thing you notice, as the stories unfold, is how the youngest victims of accidental shootings tend to be shot in the head--how natural it is, when you are a child and playing with a loaded gun, to point it at your friend's face and go "boom." At the bustling Washington headquarters for the Million Mom March, the stories--of toddlers caught in a cross fire, grandmothers murdered on vacation, six-year-olds gunned down at school--are as essential to the cause as are the T shirts and the slick website. The Million Mom March could not exist without such anguish. The stories that pour forth from women who have lost loved ones to gun violence are deeply personal and unremittingly awful. The tears flow at press conferences and in meetings at the White House. And this Mother's Day, as moms from around the country converge on the Washington Mall, the tears will spill onto the national stage.
The war over guns in America highlights the distance between the personal and the political. Women, while telling pollsters that they overwhelmingly favor more controls on guns, have been largely silent on the issue in public. But as each fresh shooting horror is met by the same inaction in Congress, a roiling frustration may be awakening an army of moms who see themselves as outsiders armed only with their clout as voters and agitators. And as politicians stare into the gender divide--polls show that about 72% of women, vs. 22% of men, favor more regulation of firearms--gun control could join more traditional women's concerns, such as education and health care, as a key issue in races across the country.
Already last week the presidential campaign was rocked by release of a videotape in which a top official of the National Rifle Association boasted that the organization was extremely close to George W. Bush and would have a President "where we work out of their office" if he were elected. At the same time, several gun manufacturers suspended negotiations with state and local officials, in hope that they would win protection from lawsuits if Bush were elected. Al Gore attacked Bush as a tool of the N.R.A. Bush, while long friendly to the gun lobby, tried to distance himself from it. "It's stomach churning," says Donna Dees-Thomases, chief organizer of the Million Mom March. "But it's still important for us to remain nonpartisan. There are still Republicans who want to do the right thing" on gun control.
Activists among the Million Moms have had more success at the grass roots than in Washington this year, persuading state and local governments from California to Connecticut to Florida to pass safety-lock requirements and restrictions on handgun purchases. And gun-control advocates have taken gunmakers to court--resulting, for example, in the deal last month in which Smith & Wesson agreed to incorporate new safety features in its handguns.