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June 3, 2000
Column #979

GUNS, GOD, AND CHILDREN

     ''Is the need for sensible gun-control a religious issue? You bet it is,'' said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at the Million Mom March.

     ''The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity. Controlling guns is not only a political matter, it is a solemn religious obligation. Our gun-flooded society has turned weapons into idols, and the worship of idols must be recognized for what it is - blasphemy. And the only appropriate religious response is sustained moral outrage.''

     More than 50 faith groups participated in the Million Mom March on Mother's Day, an event which attracted 500,000-750,000 people to the U.S. Capitol. It began in an interfaith service with an Islamic call to prayer and reading of Scripture from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Among the organizers: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Sikhs, National Council of Catholic Women, Episcopal Church, United Methodists, American Baptists and Lutherans, many of whom organized church members to come.

     The event was a political watershed. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers cheered Rosie O'Donnell, the events' hostess when she said, ''We are giving birth to a movement. ''We are now women and children demanding to be counted....We are the voice of the majority of Americans and it is time we are heard. We have had enough of the stranglehold the NRA has in Congress and Senate. The NRA is buying votes with blood money.''

     Among the Moms' demands of Congress were ''common sense gun control'' measures such requiring background checks of those purchasing a handgun at gun shows, built-in locks to child-proof guns, limiting sales to one weapon per month plus gun registration and licensing.

     National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre countered that ''registration and licensing schemes'' were, in fact, ''a controlled burn of the Second Amendment and setting fire to freedom.''

     In reality, however, gun production is down a third and since the 1980's the percent of men who said they owned a gun has fallen from 52 to 38 percent. Polls show that 85 percent of Americans favor registration of handguns and obtaining a license from police to purchase one.

     However, the NRA has registered a million new members in the last year, making it an even more effective lobbying group.

     Many rally speakers movingly spoke of their losses of family members to gun shots. They ranged from Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, both daughters of Robert Kennedy to Dawn Anna, remembering her daughter, killed in the Columbine massacre, who said, ''Lauren, we are here, our arms are wrapped around you and the children of this nation.''

     One of the marchers was Charmaine Jones, who was with a baby and 8-year-old Lashae, who explained why they came simply, ''Because my daddy died. He got killed by a 16-year-old.''

     Even weeks later, words spoken to those vast throngs of women, remain haunting to me. Dr. Antonia Novello, the first female Surgeon General asked, ''How can they be old enough to buy a gun, but not old enough to buy a beer?''

     Courtney Love, a singer whose husband, Kurt Cobain killed himself with a shotgun, noted: ''Suicide is five times more likely in a house with a gun than without one. Ask a child like my girl Frances, who will never have a father, ask her if a gun is good protection.''

     Guess how many of the 32,436 Americans who died of gun shots in 1997 were suicides, and how many were murders. There were 13,522 homicides and a staggering 17,566 suicides, while about 1,000 died in accidents.

     A leader of Pax Students noted that a dozen young people are killed by guns every day  about the same number as the 13 innocent victims of Columbine.

     What will be the impact of the Million Mom March?

     Gun control advocates ''have always had numbers on our side, but the gun lobby had passion on its side,'' concedes Naomi Paiss of Handgun Control. ''However, the march demonstrated grim passion by parents who look at this society and reject its violence and fatalism about that violence.'' Really? No one answers the Million Mom March phones anymore.

     The odds of Congressional action this year seem slim. Last year, the Senate passed a bill requiring child safety locks and prohibiting the sale or possession of a semi-automatic weapon by a juvenile. But the House has no such measures in its bill and there is a stalemate.

     Moms will have to learn to lobby over the long haul.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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