WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Standing before a list of shooting victims, representatives of the U.S. Conference of Mayors today urged supporters of gun control to ``listen to the mothers of America'' and join Mother's Day rallies Sunday for a national handgun license and registration system.
``What has been needed is a grass-roots effort,'' said Mayor Scott King, of Gary, Ind., endorsing the main ``Million Mom March'' on the National Mall and smaller rallies planned across the nation.
King and Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, both Democrats, stood in front a ``Wall of Death'' listing 4,001 victims of gun violence since 12 students and a teacher were killed April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo. They represented the organization of mayors, which includes numerous cities that have sued gun manufacturers.
Williams, whose mother, Nana, will speak at Sunday's rally, said gun deaths are reaching ``the magnitude of a war ... a silent war in America's communities.''
At her weekly news conference today, Attorney General Janet Reno praised the marchers for ``their concern, their conviction and their commitment.''
Reno said it's ``just simply plain outrageously wrong'' that House-Senate conferees on new gun legislation ``have only met once since last May, and no substantial progress to get the bill to the floor.'' A bill approved by the Senate and supported by the Clinton administration would require child safety locks and background checks on purchasers at gun shows.
``The bill has languished in conference for nine months while over 20,000 people have been killed by gunfire in America,'' Reno said. ``Gun violence does not have to be a fact of our life. In the period between 1992 and 1996, there were 100 gun homicides in Toronto; in a city of equal size, Chicago, there were 3,063.''
``This is one of the most violent countries in the world. It doesn't have to be,'' Reno said.
Reno said she hopes to get to one of the local marches Saturday after she gives a commencement address in Illinois.
While the rally will attract a number of celebrities, sponsors of the demonstration emphasized that a small group of moms conceived of, and planned the event. Donna Dees-Thomases, the founder of the rally, who appeared with the mayors at a news conference, said many of the planners ``never organized anything more complicated than a car pool.''
Entertainers, politicians and mothers of children who were shot to death plan to participate in the events in more than 70 communities.
Debbye Kelley-Watson of Washington, whose 19-year-old son was shot to death by a teen-ager three years ago, told a news conference Wednesday, ``I am turning tears into action.''
Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for the Senate from New York, is expected to march as a mom but does not plan to address the rally. President Clinton is expected to participate, but the White House has not decided what form this would take.
Entertainers and celebrities expected to appear include Rosie O'Donnell, Rosanne Cash, John McEnroe, Emmylou Harris, Susan Sarandon and Melissa Etheridge.
The primary pro-gun group, the National Rifle Association, is not ready to concede the spotlight to images of gun control supporters pushing their children in strollers down the Mall.
The NRA has begun an ad campaign that portrays its members as mainstream Americans who want to bring gun safety lessons to the nation's classrooms.
In television and newspaper ads running across the country this week, the NRA dismisses policy disagreements as ``gun politics'' and says it will spend $1 million to educate children about gun safety.
March supporters contend that a requirement for a gun license and registration of the weapon would not be any more burdensome than a driver's license and vehicle registration.
The licensing system would require purchasers to receive basic safety training and is designed to prevent sales to criminals, children or disturbed individuals.
Guns would be registered after sellers checked the buyer's license and then registered the gun's serial number.
On the Net:
National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org