WASHINGTON (AP) -- Encouraged by President Clinton to take on the gun lobby and blunt its influence with Congress, thousands of moms and their families were congregating Sunday within sight of the Capitol to demand stricter regulation of handguns.
"Don't be deterred by the political mountain you have to climb," Clinton said at a White House reception attended by hundreds of mothers, some of whose children died from gun violence. "You could be sitting home today, burying your heartbreak and anger and instead you made this journey here," he said.
Greeting marchers on the National Mall were large banners bidding a "Welcome To the Million Mom March; Sensible Gun Laws, Safe Kids." "Million Mom March" organizers want the nation to see images of families marching together on Mother's Day, hoping to send lawmakers and the gun lobby a message that many more Americans are ready to join the fight.
At the White House event, march participants were told by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Senate candidate from New York :"We've come here in the names of the children we love, the children we have lost, the children we want to save."
In an area bounded by the Capitol, Washington Monument and the popular Smithsonian museums, marchers were to carry signs showing handguns with red lines through them and messages proclaiming "Freedom From Gun Trauma."
The president wants legislation that would require child safety locks with all new handguns, close a loophole that permits firearms purchases at gun shows without background checks and ban the import of large-capacity ammunition clips. The "Million Mom March" organizers want more: uniform handgun control laws that would include licensing and registration, longer waiting periods, a one-gun-a-month purchase limit.
Pro-gun supporters gathered for a counter-rally near the Washington Monument. The Second Amendment Sisters, a pro-gun group that has its own moms, was sending a different message: new controls on handguns would only give criminals the advantage. The organization, independent of the NRA, wants the administration to enforce the laws already in force. The group was giving out balloons to participants to separate them from the competing demonstrators.
The "Million Mom March" organizers lined up plenty of entertainers including Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Susan Sarandon and Melissa Etheridge. But the real stars were Americans who lost love ones to gun violence, who were telling their personal stories.
Children were to ring a bell created by a community-based coalition in Bridgeport, Conn. The group raised money to promote a gun buyback program and the weapons were melted down to make the clapper for the 400-pound brass bell. A Children's Village was ready to entertain young marchers and participants were given a chance to send their lawmakers a Mother's Day card in support of gun control.
On the Net: http://www.millionmommarch.com
National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org
Second Amendment Sisters: www.sas-aim.org