Mothers Against Guns

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    Established advocacy groups such as Handgun Control have helped Dees-Thomases and her moms refine their message, moving from a sheer expression of outrage over gun killings to a call for what they term "common-sense gun laws"--tougher background checks, longer "cooling-off" periods before buying a gun and mandatory safety locks on handguns. The Million Moms agenda also insists that Congress regulate guns the way states do automobiles: by licensing the owner and registering the gun.

    The Million Moms are blatantly using motherhood to sell their message. The march will feature a stroller parade and a family tent, so parents have a place to take young children when they get antsy during the speeches. Ann Stevens, a mother of three from Springfield, Va., says, "I told my husband that this year, instead of breakfast in bed, I want to do this for Mother's Day. I have children, and I want them to be around years from now."

    A steady succession of shootings has kept the cause in the news. A week after Kayla Rolland was shot by another first-grader in Flint, Mich., Rosie O'Donnell publicized the Million Mom March on her show. After seven kids were shot outside Washington's National Zoo, the Moms had to add more phone lines.

    All this publicity has energized the gun-control movement--and also its opponents. N.R.A. executive vice president Wayne LaPierre says his group has added more than 300,000 members over the past 18 months, bringing its rolls to about 3 million. While the march organizers have planned 60 rallies across the country to be held simultaneously with the march in Washington, pro-gun forces in several states have scheduled counterdemonstrations by self-described "pistol-packing mamas." A pro-gun moms' movement, the Second Amendment Sisters, is also planning to march in Washington on Mother's Day, to call for more permits to carry concealed weapons. According to spokesperson Kim Watson, "We want the government to know that it's up to us to protect our own kids."

    The big political question is which side will claim the most swing voters--that is, the most women whose votes are available to candidates of either party. Nancy Inhofe, a Tulsa, Okla., emergency-room pediatrician and mother of two, was reared as a conservative Republican and is a daughter-in-law of Oklahoma's Republican Senator James Inhofe. But Nancy, a local coordinator for the Million Mom March, describes herself as an independent voter and says the march defies political distinctions. "It doesn't matter what side you're on politically," she says. "Personal experience has prompted me and people like me to want to make sure guns are safe. I've seen enough."

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