- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

Nearly half a million protesters converged on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol yesterday to urge Congress to pass "common sense gun control" and try to stem the gun violence that claims more than 30,000 Americans each year.
But Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Maryland Republican who attended the demonstration yesterday, said protesters with the Million Mom March cannot rely on yesterday's event alone to make their point. They will need to lobby their representatives in Congress to make a difference, Mrs. Morella said.
"This will work only if people who are here will contact their congressmen, and that's when the Congress will respond," Mrs. Morella said as she stood next to a quilt that depicted the faces of victims who died as a result of gun violence.
"Otherwise, this becomes another day in the sun. People are enthusiastic here, but it really needs to go beyond this," Mrs. Morella added.
In what could prove to be one of the biggest mass demonstrations to descend on Washington in years, thousands of mothers, fathers, grandparents and children grabbed spots between Fourth and 12th streets NW to show their support for stricter handgun regulation.
Carrying signs that read "Freedom from gun trauma" and "No more gun violence," and wearing "Million Mom March" buttons and T-shirts, the participants listened throughout the day to families of victims tell their stories of personal tragedies.
Last week, march organizers said they expected about 150,000 people to attend the Mother's Day rally. But by midday yesterday, organizers said about 500,000 participants had congregated on the Mall under clear blue skies.
The National Park Service no longer gives official crowd estimates.
The participants poured into the city, some traveling by bus from as far away as Minnesota, others flying in from California.
"If that doesn't get the attention of our congressmen, I don't know what will," said Claudette Perry, an organizer with the District of Columbia chapter of the Million Mom March. "I think our message here today will come across."
The marchers want Congress to pass uniform handgun control laws that would include licensing and registration, longer waiting periods, a one-gun-a-month purchase limit. Marchers contend that 12 children die from gun violence each day.
Congress took up some milder gun-control legislation after last year's killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., but the initiative has been stalled for months.
"Licensing and registration is the foundation of sane gun laws," said Donna Dees-Thomases, who founded the Mother's Day march. "Without these basic measures, even current gun laws cannot be adequately enforced."
Nearly 70 communities planned to have similar anti-gun rallies yesterday.
Pro-gun forces, including the powerful National Rifle Association, have fended off new legislation, arguing instead for better gun law enforcement and gun safety education.
A smaller group of gun advocates who call themselves the "Second Amendment Sisters Armed Informed Mothers" held a counterprotest on the Mall at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, a few blocks away from the much larger Million Mom rally.
The Sisters argue that new controls on handguns would only give criminals the advantage and that firearm ownership is an important part of self-defense in a high-crime society. The members, whose organization is independent of the National Rifle Association, also claim better parenting is the key to curbing violence.
"Every individual should have the right to defend themselves," said Bill Carter of Arlington, Va., who walked along Madison Drive, which was closed to traffic because of the march.
"Every person has the right to protect themselves," he added.
Similar pro-gun rallies took place in 14 states yesterday.
The Sisters' rally, however, was dwarfed by the mothers of the competing march, which boasted a lineup of celebrities, politicians and mothers who shared their stories of personal loss.
Among the celebrities who joined the rally were actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell, who was the mistress of ceremonies; singers Tanya Blount, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Melissa Ethridge and Melissa Manchester; and actors Susan Sarandon, Reese Witherspoon and Courtney Love.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her sister, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, also addressed the crowd. Mrs. Townsend and Mrs. Cuomo are both daughters of Robert F. Kennedy.
Virginia Hayes Williams, the mother of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, delivered a welcoming speech from the main stage early yesterday morning, during which she stated that the mayor today will announce another D.C. gun-buyback program.
"Twelve children [dying] is too many," Mrs. Williams told the marchers as they cheered her on. "Let's work to get guns registered."
Following Mrs. Williams' address, a dozen young victims of gun violence rang a bell, made of melted-down guns, 12 times to remember the 12 children killed by guns each day. A moment of silence followed.
Trudy Harper of Northeast, Washington, D.C., stood beside the stage, holding a placard that had attached to it a color photograph of her 18-year-old son, Michael Patton, who was killed in 1997 while at a friend's house. No one was ever arrested in his slaying.
"I'm here to support my son and to remember all those who died from gun violence," Ms. Harper said.
Margaret Ensley of Los Angeles clutched a framed photograph of her son, Micheal, who was gunned down during his last year of high school in 1993. Ms. Ensley said she couldn't have picked a better way to spend her Mother's Day, than to press for stricter gun laws.
"I had to be here," she said as she stood in the shade listening to other mothers who suffered the same loss. "My son never got to go to the prom, never got to graduate. I always get a feeling of emptiness on Mother's Day. But this year, I have a sense of hope. Maybe all these years that we've worked to stop gun violence will finally result in something."
D.C. mothers Renee Marsh-Williams and Laura Wallace, the mothers of the two Woodrow Wilson High School students gunned down in February in Northeast, also spoke about their children.
"It's too late for Natasha and Andre," Mrs. Marsh-Williams said of Natasha Marsh and Andre Wallace. "But it's not too late for other children. We need registration and we need licensing. It's just common sense."
At one point during the speeches yesterday afternoon, participants of both marches became involved in a brief argument as members of the Sisters group marched along Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol. Dozens of Million Mom March participants booed and jeered the pro-gun marchers as they walked past. The pro-gun marchers, however, continued on and laughed or hurled insults back.
No one was injured.
U.S. Park Police said last night they made no arrests during the six-hour rally.
The Million Mom organizers said after the rally they will not stop their push for stricter laws now that the march has ended. They said they plan to survey all U.S. elected officials from city council to presidential candidates to learn their positions on licensing and registration, and continue to participate in public forums nationwide to push for common sense gun policies.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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