WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Advocates of tighter gun control laws hope a mass turnout of mothers and families at a weekend march will spur activism that breaks the gridlock in the Republican-run Congress.
In the wake of tragic shooting sprees across the country, participants in Sunday's ``Million Mom March'' signed thousands of Mother's Day cards printed with the message: ``Forget the flowers ... forget the chocolate ... forget breakfast in bed. This Mother's Day, give us a present that lasts: common-sense gun laws.''
A homemade sign carried by one family warned lawmakers, who face elections this fall: ``Accepting NRA money is political suicide.''
Organizers of the ``Million Mom March'' principally want trigger locks to protect children and a national system that would register handguns and license their owners. They intend to maintain an activist movement that will endorse and oppose political candidates based on gun control positions.
All major gun control legislation before Congress has been stalled for a year.
``Politicians, take heed. We are watching you. The hands that rock the cradles rule the world,'' said Dawn Anna, mother of Lauren Townsend, a student killed in the Columbine High School shootings that stunned the nation.
Tens of thousands of mothers, many accompanied by children and husbands, thronged to the National Mall on Sunday. Though there were no official crowd estimates, participants filled half a dozen blocks on the grassy area framed by the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, Congress and the Washington Monument.
Erika Heilbrink, 9, of Falls Church, Va., carried a poster with a toy gun stapled to it. ``This gun has the same childproofing as a real gun. None,'' the poster said.
Crowds ranging from a few hundred to an estimated 5,000 in Denver showed up at similar rallies in dozens of cities across the country â€” from Maine to Michigan to Oregon.
The gun-control advocates didn't have the day to themselves, however. A considerably smaller group of several thousand counter-demonstrators gathered near the Washington Monument to hold a rally where they argued that guns were needed for self-protection.
That demonstration, organized by a group called Second Amendment Sisters Inc., also included many mothers who brought their children.
``My kids know, if you see a gun, you don't touch it. You leave the area, you go tell a responsible adult,'' said Elitza Meyer, from Watchung, N.J.
When opponents of gun control marched toward the Capitol, they came close to ``Million Mom March'' participants and the two groups exchanged jeers and boos.
President Clinton remained at the White House, encouraging several hundred rally leaders who attended a reception to surmount ``the political mountain'' they had to climb. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, joined the march for a time, but the crush of onlookers forced her to a nearby road where she slowly made her way to the Capitol on her own, shaking hands with well-wishers who lined the streets.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Maryland Democrat and a daughter of the slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, said: ``You know, Mothers Against Drunk Driving had an enormous impact against traffic deaths and I think we can have the same impact here.''
But for the most part, elected officials stood in the background; the day was reserved instead for supportive entertainers, including mistress of ceremonies Rosie O'Donnell, a television talk show host, and for women who told painful, personal stories of losing loved ones to gun violence.
``The gun that killed my daughter in her classroom was one that could be loaded by a 6-year-old, carried by a 6-year-old, and fired by a 6-year-old,'' said Veronica McQueen, who was transformed into a public figure when her daughter, Kayla Rolland, was shot and killed in her first grade classroom in Flint, Mich., on Feb. 29.
On the Net: http://www.millionmommarch.com
National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org
Second Amendment Sisters: www.sas-aim.org