One Million Moms For Gun Control: Origins Of A Movement
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As the 1MM4GC Facebook presence grew, so did the negative comments. One person wrote, “If you are so anti-gun then don’t bother crying out for help when you are raped or murdered.” Among the readers who noticed an uptick in profanity and vitriol was Amy R. She was itching to become more involved, she says, but she has a medical disability that means she can’t march. Instead, she volunteered to remove profane comments from the Facebook page, thousands by the day. (She asked that her full name not be used in this article because of the nature of her involvement with the group.)
More than once the right person serendipitously appeared in Watts's inbox. Just as she was thinking, “I don’t know how to use social media,” a popular blogger (and new mother) pinged her and took on that job for 1MM4GC. When it was clear the group would need its own website, a professional web designer happened to call and offer to build one. The moms also needed a lawyer and found one in a new member from San Francisco. When a heartening percentage of respondents to their call to action turned out to be men, a father who lives down the block from Bohan took on leadership of the Dads' chapter.
“Five and a half weeks ago I was making salt clay ornaments and Christmas cookies," Russell says. "Now I am a round-the-clock activist.”
A little after Watts created her Facebook page, a Manhattan woman named Donna Dees Thomases started receiving emails that recalled another decade.
In 1999, Thomases founded the "Million Mom March For Sensible Gun Laws", in reaction to a shooting at a preschool in Granada Hills, Calif. Then reeling from televised scenes of the aftermath, she’d wanted to join one of the few organizations leading the fight for gun control, she says, but none was receptive to her offer. “They were very top-down, very male-oriented, with the philosophy that they had to do everything themselves or hire a lobbyist,” she says. “What was missing was mothers.”
If you want to start a movement, you recruit moms with young children, according to Thomases. “They are at playgroups, they are at the pediatrician with their kids, they are naturally involved in other families' lives,” she says. “We’re lonely, too. A lot of us have stepped out of the workplace and we naturally gravitate toward each other.”
Thomases points out that the Brady Bill, which requires a waiting period for handgun sales, passed after PTA parents got involved, and MADD resonated because its founders' children were killed or injured in drunk-driving incidents.
She believes the need for moms' power also explains the defeat of a bill, eight weeks after Columbine, that would have closed the gunshow loophole. “The moms of high school students weren’t focused on that," Thomases says. "My younger daughter is a high school junior now. I am thinking of college applications, not gun control.”
Back in 1999, however, her children were 4 and 5, and with her target demographic in her sights, she gathered 750,000 marchers on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Mother's Day of 2000. Subsequent rallies drew smaller crowds, and several years ago the Million Mom March became a part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Some stalwart volunteers have been working continuously under that banner since, but support has been muted.
Until Newtown. When she learned what Watts was doing, Thomases called and offered her blessing. “It’s a relay race,” she says. “And this is the passing of the baton.”