NEWS STORY: Marchers Pray, Then Demand `Sensible’ Gun Laws

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Marcy Bixby thought she could handle most of the questions her son Matthew asked about what to expect from middle school _ the 10-year-old frequently showered her with questions about how to make friends and what to expect from teachers when he entered the sixth grade this fall.

But Bixby was not prepared for one thing: her son’s fear of getting shot.

“I got sick to my stomach when he asked me if he would get shot at school,” recalled Bixby, a member of Congregation Or Chadash in Germantown, Md. “One thing I want to do is protect my child, but I could not guarantee that. It really struck a deep nerve with me.”

So much so that she and Matthew joined hundreds of thousands of others on the National Mall on Sunday (May 14) for the Million Mom March, a grassroots push for gun safety legislation organized by Donna Dees-Thomases _ a part-time publicist for David Letterman’s late-night talk show. The concept for the rally evolved when Dees-Thomases decided she had seen one news report too many about shooting victims after images of a white supremacist’s shooting spree at a Jewish Community Center in California flickered across her television screen last August.

As many as 750,000 people attended Sunday’s rally, say event organizers, dwarfing a counter-rally organized by the Second Amendment Sisters in support of gun ownership organized near the Washington Monument.

During the Million Mom March, women _ many with husbands and children in tow _ proudly waved signs and banners proclaiming messages such as “A Million Moms Can’t Be Wrong” and “Enough is Enough.”

Their goal: stricter enforcement of existing gun safety legislation, mandatory child safety locks, licensing and registration for all handgun owners, and a one-per-month nationwide restriction on handgun purchases.

“The people who are here today represent the way the majority of Americans feel about this issue _ they want common-sense legislation,” said Ann Delorey, legislative director of Church Women United. “It is required that manufacturers of hair dryers have warnings about the risk of death caused by electric shock, and yet we don’t have the same standards applied to instruments manufactured for the sole purpose of killing another human being.

“We want common-sense gun control,” she added. “This is not a radical thing we’re asking for.”

The rally opened with an interfaith prayer service, during which marchers linked hands to sing “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” After an Islamic call to prayer, speakers from a range of faiths offered prayer, songs, scripture readings _ from the Baha’i and Hindu faiths as well as both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament _ and words of hope to the crowd attending the service.

Many of those carried signs with pictures of loved ones who were victims of gun-related violence. And as inspirational speeches mingled with tales of anguish and heartache, the crowd’s mood seesawed between festive and somber.

“We’re outraged that so-called gun rights seem invincible up there in the halls of Congress, but we have to beg for children’s rights for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said the Rev. Jim Atwood, chairman of the Steering Committee for Involving the Faith Community in the Million Mom March. “Today, before the almighty God, we pledge to God and to one another that we are in this for the long haul. Today is the beginning, not the end of the Million Mom March!”

Rabbi Marc Israel, director of congregational relations with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, drew upon passages from the book of Judges to encourage grieving mothers to draw strength from their biblical counterparts. He said stopping gun-related violence and deaths was the nation’s “sacred task.”

“We know we can be silent no more _ our silence has been wrongly understood to be apathetic. Our silence has been understood to be complicity. We have had enough,” said Israel. “We must actively work to create shalom, peace. True peace can only be found … when gun violence no longer shatters the lives of families.”

Creating a nonviolent society is a special imperative of the faith community, said Susan Mix, president of Church Women United.

“Every faith community has some form of the Golden Rule, we all have the same foundation that we are to love one another _ that’s why we have to add our voices to the debate about gun violence,” said Mix. “Too many people believe that separation of church and state means that the faith community must not have anything to say about politics, but that’s not true _ we really need to address issues of creating love and peace in society.”

Judy Reinstra traveled from Wisconsin with her daughter, Kathleen Enders, to attend the rally. She said she made the trip for the sake of her five grandchildren.

“I felt I had to be here _ the Bible says that we should love our neighbor, it doesn’t say that we should arm ourselves to the teeth to protect ourselves from our neighbor,” said Reinstra, resting a sign that read “Presbyterians for Sensible Gun Laws, Safe Kids” on her shoulder. “People tend not to take women so seriously, but if we’re willing to come from all over the country for this issue then we can’t be ignored.”

Rabbi Stephanie Wolfe, who leads the congregation to which Bixby and her son belong, said she felt participating in the rally was a moral duty,

“Doing whatever we can to make the world safer for our children is our moral obligation,” said Wolfe, who was accompanied by about 30 people from Or Chadash. “This is an important issue that the faith community has to speak out about. No matter what our religious beliefs are, our children will be our future. We have to stand up and protect them.”

That’s part of the reason Chris Anderson, of Chantilly, Va., traveled to Washington with fellow congregation members at Floris United Methodist Church, she said.

“I’ve just had it _ Congress needs to listen to the voters who put them in office and realize that we expect action, and sometimes that means they have to turn down money from the gun lobby,” said Anderson, who wrote and recorded a song that denounced gun-related violence. “As a Christian, I feel Christ gave us a very good example of how to confront injustice, and we are obligated not to sit and watch injustice happening without speaking up. We’re speaking up to tell Congress that children have the right to attend school without being shot.”

The fight to convince Congress to approve gun-safety legislation would be a tough one, warned Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. But he said gun-safety advocates are well-prepared.

“The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense gainst God and humanity,” Yoffie told the larger rally. “Controlling guns is not only a political matter, it is a solemn religious obligation … We are ready for a knockdown, no-holds-barred battle against the NRA, which is the real criminal’s lobby in this country and which is drenched in the blood of murdered children.

“Until now our moral outrage has been too feeble and our sense of injustice too timid, but we look at the mothers of the murdered and maimed and say `enough,”’ he said.

Television talk show host Rosie O’Donnell was among a number of celebrities who attended the event, including first lady Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton. O’Donnell also urged the crowd to tackle the National Rifle Association.

“We are the voice of Americans, it’s time we are heard,” she told the crowd, adding, “The NRA buys votes with blood money. They are strong, they are organized, they are scary.”

Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend demanded that gun manufacturers take the initiative themselves to install safety devices.

“It’s easier to childproof a gun than to bulletproof a child,” she told the crowd.


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