The members of the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun control groups generally portray the most ardent gun control advocates as hysterical, unreasonable and downright unAmerican. But the folks in the pro-gun crowd may be about to face a formidable foe the likes of which they have never before encountered.
In North Carolina, the foe is personified by Rachel Smith of Raleigh -- a writer and teacher who has enlisted (She will pardon the military expression) as state coordinator for the Million Mom March, a national effort slated to come to fruition on Mother's Day, May 14, with a rally in Washington and other marches in state capitals. The march is to spotlight the aims of an organized group of mothers and others, one might say, who believe that tragedies in which children have died from gunfire might be stemmed with responsible regulation of firearms.
After the Columbine school shooting in April of last year, when 15 people were killed and 23 others wounded in a Colorado high school, Smith knew the time had come for her to do something. "It changed everything for me," she said. "It made me realize I wanted my children to be safe. And I wanted things to be safe for all children, not just my own."
She was alarmed by the fear her own younger two children, students in the Wake County schools, felt in Columbine's aftermath. Then came the Aug. 10, 1999, shooting in a California Jewish community center preschool. Five people were wounded.
Smith met Donna Dees-Thomases, a New York television publicist for David Letterman, who was in the process of creating the Million Mom March, and was put in charge of the North Carolina effort almost immediately. The dream is that what is now a national campaign will hit its stride on Mother's Day, when it's hoped hundreds of thousands of Moms, children and friends will fill the mall at Capitol Hill to demand what really are modest steps toward more responsible gun control. The Moms want national safety standards for guns, to license all handgun owners and register all handguns, to require safety locks, to limit handgun purchases to one a month, to more strictly enforce laws already on the books.
The march is operating under the umbrella of The Bell Campaign, an ongoing national gun control effort, Smith says, "started by people who had lost someone to gun violence" and others who have themselves been victims.
The idea behind that campaign, she said, is to change the "cultural acceptance" of guns, "so that an event like Columbine does not become so familiar to us, so that it does not become so much a part of the fabric of our society. The cultural perception is that we just have to live with gun violence. And we don't."
And lest the anti-gun control lobby feels a flex or two of the old big-money muscle will cause the Moms to demure just as it seems to weaken the knees of the politicians, well. . .consider Rachel Smith's view: "This is not how we want to live. This is not how we want our children to live. We will not be intimidated by the gun lobby -- even if our lawmakers are."
It is significant to her that though participation in the event certainly isn't limited to mothers, the mother is an important symbol of the movement.
"People everywhere no longer feel their children are safe, and that's an important distinction," Smith said. "When you are a parent, when you love somebody more than you love yourself, you're willing to do things you never thought you could do -- in order to protect your children."
It should be interesting, to be sure: The tonsils of Charlton Heston (Mr. NRA Himself) and the financial might of the anti-gun control lobby vs. a million mothers. The anti-control crowd has sometimes displayed a nasty habit of -- you'll excuse the expression -- shooting itself in the foot when it comes to winning the battle for the public's conscience. (One will not soon forget the NRA's determination to go ahead with a Colorado meeting shortly after the Columbine shootings -- proof positive that of all subjects covered at the convention, rocket science wasn't one of 'em.)
How will the rootin'-tootin' anti-control crowd -- which wraps the right to arm oneself to the teeth in the parchment of the Constitution and serves it up with a side of apple pie -- handle this possible perceived anti-Mom problem? They'll find a way, no doubt. They always do.
But there will be many thousands of Moms out there who will, like Rachel Smith, be "asking their families to give them this for Mother's Day." "It's sort of like the expression," Smith said, "of, 'If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.'" And guess what? When it comes to gun violence, the Moms aren't happy -- a point they plan to make, emphatically, in Washington and all over the country come Mother's Day.