May 12, 2000
At least half a million mothers and other concerned citizens joined the Mother's Day march on the National Mall to protest gun violence. Thousands more attended events nationwide as the Million Mom organization continues its crusade for stricter gun controls. Prior to the march, Ray Suarez spoke to two activists with opposing views on the gun control issue.
DONNA KELLY-WATTS, Mother of Gun Victim: I am taking action in the memory of my son and in an effort to protect thousands of other mothers and children from having to suffer the same pain that I have.
RAY SUAREZ: Donna Kelly-Watts is one of the 150,000 people expected to join the so-called "Million Mom March" in Washington on Sunday.
|Marching on Washington|
DONNA DEES-THOMASES, "Million Mom March" Organizer: You hear these mothers who tell these stories and you remember why you started out -- because no one should have to go through this.
RAY SUAREZ: The march is the brainchild of Donna Dees-Thomases' sister-in-law, one of First Lady Hillary Clinton's advisors. Dees-Thomases said she got the idea last summer when she saw TV coverage of the shootings at a day care center in California in August.
Rallies are planned in 60 cities plus the nation's capital. March organizers say the participants will cross economic, racial, and political lines, with both Republicans and Democrats expected to attend. Organizers say they want changes in gun control laws, including licensing handgun owners and registering all handguns, sensible "cooling off" periods and background checks of any individual purchasing a weapon; safety locks for all handguns; limiting purchases to one-handgun-per-month; no-nonsense enforcement of gun laws; and the enlistment of help from corporate America.
CHARLTON HESTON, NRA President: This is one week to put politics aside.
RAY SUAREZ: The National Rifle Association has countered the demands with a television ad campaign and a million-dollar contribution for gun safety education.
SUSAN HOWARD, NRA Board Member: Can we talk woman to woman? You see, this week you're going to hear lots of disagreement about gun politics, but we all can agree on gun safety. We all want safe kids and the NRA knows how to make children safe.
RAY SUAREZ: Wayne La Pierre is executive vice president of the NRA.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Let's use this week to put firearm safety education in every elementary class in America, so young kids know if they see a gun what to do: Stop, don't touch it, leave the area, call an adult.
RAY SUAREZ: The marching mothers will have competition from a group called the Second Amendment Sisters, a pro-gun advocacy group, who will hold a counter-rally a few blocks away at the same time. Both the sisters, who say they are not supported by the NRA, and the marching mothers have their own Web sites where they are recruiting participants.
SPOKESPERSON: I'm going to start again if I could, sir.
RAY SUAREZ: The Clinton administration has publicly endorsed the march. President Clinton met with women from both sides of the issue today. Mr. Clinton used the meeting, broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America," to chastise the NRA.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They do well if they can turn this into a gun control battle; we do well when we turn this a specific battle. The things that the mothers coming here will do -- I hope -- is to make this a voting issue. But if it's not, they'll going to keep winning. And you just have to realize that.
RAY SUAREZ: Tents are going up on the national mall, and first aid stations are prepared. March organizers have erected a wall with the names of gun victims inscribed on it.
|Two sides of gun legislation|
RAY SUAREZ: Two different perspectives now on this weekend's march. Mary Leigh Blek is the western regional organizer for the event. She's also the co-founder and president of the Bell Campaign, a grassroots organization in Orange County, California, dedicated to the prevention of gun deaths and injuries. Robin Ball is the owner of an indoor shooting range and a gun shop in Spokane, Washington. She is a member of the Second Amendment Sisters, an anti-gun control organization that is planning a counter-demonstration Sunday.
Mary Leigh Blek, tell us how you came to this issue. What called you to activism?
MARY LEIGH BLEK, Million Mom March: I got a call on June 29, 1994, informing me that our 21-year-old son, who was on a college break and had gone to New York City to spend the summer, and as he was walking a new date home, was approached by three 15-year-olds wielding two handguns. And they demanded his wallet. And as he started to hand over the wallet, they put a little Saturday Night Special to his forehead and fired it. And that was my introduction to gun violence.
RAY SUAREZ: So your son died shortly thereafter.
MARY LEIGH BLEK: He died within the hour, yes.
RAY SUAREZ: Had you ever been involved in this way in an issue like this before?
MARY LEIGH BLEK: Not to this degree. Certainly I was active in my PTA and my children's activities. I was a Brownie leader and member of assistance league. I was considered active in the community, but not to this degree. Certainly I was very much a homemaker for my family.
RAY SUAREZ: Robin Ball, tell us how you got involved on the other side of the question. Public opinion researchers tell us that this is one of the surest gender gap questions -- that women cut very heavily in favor of gun control.
ROBIN BALL, Second Amendment Sisters: Well, I don't see it that way because about 90 percent of the people that I teach to shoot are women. And I find women to be very actively involved in the shooting sports and most likely to take a stand on the issue. It really has been a male-dominated issue until just recently. This vote does swing with the women. And I think that women, if they look at both sides of the issue and stay focused on what we see as the problems, will understand that more laws are not the answer.
|Education is the answer|
RAY SUAREZ: What is the answer?
ROBIN BALL: The answer is really education. We need to stay focused on what we can do to educate not only the kids and what we expect them to say and what we expect them to do if they find a gun somewhere, but in educating gun owners, in safe storage, in keeping guns out of the wrong hands. And I'm not talking about just out of your kids' hands. It's out of the hands of their friends, and out of the hands of criminals who break into homes and steal guns, which is where they get them.
RAY SUAREZ: Mary Leigh Blek, this seems to be one of the big differences between your group and Second Amendment Sisters. They say let's enforce the laws we have. You say we need more regulations.
MARY LEIGH BLEK: Actually I heard her saying education. And to me that's what licensing is all about, to make sure that gun owners, before they purchase a gun, know how to properly use that gun, and to know what the laws are as well as to know how to unjam a gun and to -- what safe storage is. I think she's saying the same thing I am with that statement. I believe that that's what we want with licensing of guns. And the registering of guns is just making that owner account of accountable and responsible for his weapon. To me that's common sense.
I think they would think twice before passing that gun off to a juvenile or to somebody who was prohibited from owning it if they knew they would be held accountable for their registered weapon. That's all we're talking about. We're not talking about banning guns. We're talking about being responsible. We have licensing and registering for a lot of other products. I'm a registered nurse, a public health nurse. I have a license to practice public health. I think this is just very common and I think women understand that. And when it comes to our firearm death rate for our children, 14 and under, when we know it's 12 times higher than for 25 other industrialized nations combined --
RAY SUAREZ: Yes, but it's been dropping throughout the '90s without the kind of regulation that you've been talking about.
MARY LEIGH BLEK: Yes, Yes. Oh, we've been -- I beg to differ with you on that. I think there's lots of reasons why our gun death rate is dropping; however, not so much with our youth. And besides, it is down to a lower level than previously, but for heaven's sakes, if we're going to talk about how great it was in the '60s, we had a lot of gun deaths in the '60s. And when you compare it with other countries who do regulate their guns, we are way out of step.
And I think that even the number that we have is intolerable. And there's something that we can do to prevent a death. And as far as enforcing the laws you're not going to get me to disagree with you there, nor the other mothers. We are calling for sensible law, you know, have the laws enforced. I think licensing and registration will help our law enforcement do a better job of enforcing. If you have that gun and it goes into a criminal's hand, they will know who had that gun by registration. We do that with automobiles. Let's do it for gun owners.
RAY SUAREZ: Robin Ball, how do you respond?
ROBIN BALL: The licensing and registration issue is completely off the subject of safety. First of all, on the licensing issue, we have people who have been teaching firearm safety across this country. You're never going to legislate accidents in any form, including Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. We're never going to legislate this down to zero. If we can maintain this trend, which we will because we have more and more instructors all the time coming on to teach firearm safety, we're going to get it down to a very, very low rate. The responsibility aspect of it, as far as transferring a gun to somebody who is not eligible to have one such as you commented on, transferring a gun to a youth, that's against the law already. We don't need to layer the laws we have. We need to enforce what we have going on. There is no reason to add more to the books. Let's take care of what is already there -- in excess of 20,000 laws on the books. Let's see some enforcement.
|Law enforcement must increase|
|RAY SUAREZ: Well, you began our talk with a terrifying story of the death of your son. Would the kind of measures that you suggest have made that crime any less likely to happen? |
MARY LEIGH BLEK: Absolutely.
RAY SUAREZ: How?
MARY LEIGH BLEK: I think -- I definitely wanted to hold that perpetrator responsible for his criminal act. But how many adult hands did that gun pass through before it reached my son? We know that crime guns, especially youth crime guns, have a -- from manufacture to crime three years. If it's a Saturday Night Special that's even a shorter period. It's a two-year period of time. That suggests to me that we have a legal purchase and that gun is being slipped out into an illegal market. And this is what you need licensing and registration for. In my state, California police chief's papers are very strong on that. They want licensing and registration as a crime-fighting tool.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, you mentioned you can't legislate this down to zero. But I think the movement on the other side of the question has purposely steered clear of prohibition-style zero-tolerance measures and have gone for what they would term a moderate approach.
ROBIN BALL: They've termed it a very reasonable approach. Unfortunately, you keep referring to the Saturday Night Special issue. What happens is when guns are stolen, they tend to steal what is coined the Saturday Night Special. They're an inexpensive gun is all that means. And I don't know where the phrase originated. The fact is the reason that they steal those is because they can turn and sell them so quickly on the street. How many laws do we have to break here to get somebody to enforce them? It's already against the law to steal guns. It's against the law to do all of those things you're talking about.
MARY LEIGH BLEK: And they go back to the person where the sale is registered, the original sale and the person can say, you know, I must have lost that gun. If we have registration that is on a periodic basis, that gun owner is saying yes, I have that gun in my possession. We do that with automobiles. And if a gun -- or a car is out in the street has been stolen and is out on the street, within 30 seconds, the police can find out who is the registered owner. Why not do that with guns? This is accountability and responsibility. And what we have here is lives being lost. I don't care if it's down from the 1992 level, it is still outrageous and it's our young people who are paying a disproportionate price because we don't regulate guns.
RAY SUAREZ: What do you hope to accomplish Sunday, briefly?
MARY LEIGH BLEK: I hope that we show Congress that we are here to support them. I think many legislators do want to do the right thing, but they're fearful of the NRA and gun lobby. They're very vocal. They are a minority but they are very vocal. And I think that by seeing us, they'll know we are here and we're going to support them. We are now educated. We know what we want and we are watching the candidates. If they are unwilling or unable to protect our children by sensible gun laws, then we're going to elect someone who will.
RAY SUAREZ: And you've thought enough of this to have a counter-demonstration. What do you want to accomplish?
ROBIN BALL: Absolutely. I want the legislators to know that this group of women doesn't speak for those of us around the country who are responsible law abiding citizens who enjoy the sport of shooting. I also believe that I would go to any extreme to protect my family. And I don't want my right to self-defense impeded by this process that they're going through. I also don't agree that the NRA represents a minority of people. Whether they're members or not, the NRA speaks for a lot of gun owners.
RAY SUAREZ: We're going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much both.
MARY LEIGH BLEK: Thank you.
ROBIN BALL: Thank you.