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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 3, 2000. All rights reserved.
Million Moms Against Guns
Some young people and their families can’t wait for
the Million Mom March. Scheduled for Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14,
moms and loved ones plan to march on Washington to demand "sensible
gun legislation" from their Congress.
Yet Easter weekend brought fresh news of tragedy: seven young people
wounded at the National Zoo in Washington at its traditional African-American
family day; a 17-year-old high school boy and his girlfriend shot
to death in northern New Mexico during the traditional Good Friday
pilgrimage to Chimayo. These are only a few of the 12 children who
die each day in the United States from gunshot wounds. And they won’t
wait for the Million Mom March.
The concept for the Million Mom March was created by Donna Dees-Thomases,
a north New Jersey mother of two, following the Grenada Hills Day
Camp shooting in California last summer. The public relations professional,
who holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University, has worked
as an assistant press secretary to Senator Russell Long and as a public
relations consultant to CBS Entertainment, assigned to the Late Show
with David Letterman. Everyone agrees that such expertise has helped
Dees-Thomases rally national support for her cause since its kickoff
last year on Labor Day.
Thus far six buses will leave from Mercer County and close to 60 buses
statewide. Debra Wachspress, New Jersey state coordinator for
the march, the mother of two children, ages 3 and 1, says the group’s
demands for "sensible laws" are quite straightforward: Gun
owners should be required to be as responsible with a deadly weapon
as with their cars. Sensible gun legislation should include licensing
and registration for all handguns.
Wachspress says it is no coincidence that motherhood has transformed
her into a peace activist. "Mothers will fight until the end to
protect their babies," she says. "All these spectacles going
on in schools have made mothers so deeply upset and saddened and outraged.
And what this march has done is give mothers a tangible effort to
focus their outrage."
"The energy is coming from the mothers, but we’re actively encouraging
families — mom, dad, kids, aunts, uncles, friends, or anyone who
care about this issue," says Wachspress.
Now 34, this mother worked for the Department of Environmental Protection
in Trenton before making the transition to full-time motherhood. Since
making the transition, she says she has done a lot of community work,
but this issue has become her passion and a round-the-clock concern.
"What really got me ignited was when I saw — on August 10
of last year, I even remember the date — the shooting at a day
camp at the Glendale Jewish Community Center in California. I’ll never
forget the picture of a police officer leading a line of children
across the street to safety. I watched this live at CNN. I would never
watch television during the day. But when these tragedies happen,
mothers get on the phone and call mothers and they cry on each others’
Her husband, Dan Wachspress, is an aerospace engineer who earned his
bachelor’s [Class of 1980] and master’s degrees at Princeton. He works
at Continuum Dynamics Inc. at the Forrestal Campus where his specialty
is helicopter modeling. In an unusual dual career move, he was able
to combine his engineering career with his vocation as a moviemaker.
He studied at New York University and completed his first feature,
"One Take," in 1998. "One Take" received critical
recognition at film festivals across the country.
Glendale seems to have been an incident — a deranged
armed man attacking tiny preschoolers — that hit Americans hard
when they were still reeling from the April murders at Columbine High
School in Colorado.
"What happened at Columbine was an atrocity; it was tragedy,"
says Debra Wachspress. "But unfortunately there are miniature
versions of this going on around us every day. Twelve children under
age 19 die every day in America from a gun. How are these kids dying?
What scares me is the number of stories I have heard about weapons
being confiscated in our schools. These are stories that never make
the news or the newspapers. We have no knowledge of the number children
carrying weapons to school, but it’s scary."
While statistics show that one in six Americans own a handgun, this
also means that five out of six Americans do not own a handgun, say
the concerned mothers. And how these guns are obtained is of prime
"Look at the gun show loophole. Shame on any legislator who has
voted against closing this loophole," says Wachspress. "The
guns that were used at Columbine High School were purchased at a gun
show by a 21-year-old young woman. She bought them from an unlicensed
dealer, a hobbyist, who himself had obtained the guns at a gun show."
While the National Rifle Association is defending its choice of a
cartoon character named Eddie Eagle for its videos on gun safety for
children, Wachspress says there’s nothing patriotic about choosing
to own a handgun.
"This debate is not over hunting," she continues. "This
debate is about handguns that are concealable. I think it’s important
to note that both George Bush and his brother, Jeb Bush, both govern
states that permit concealed weapons. You can walk into church in
Texas with a concealed handgun."
Wachspress is already looking beyond May 14. "Our next focus will
be the primary election on June 6," she says. "We are polling
every congressional candidate in New Jersey on whether or not they
endorse our mission. If we mobilize properly and people have the information
in their hand I think we will prevail. This is what the gun lobby
has done; they lobby relentlessly but they also turn out to vote on
Although gun violence hit the suburban middle-class hard last year,
it has been a concern for African-American families for decades. New
Jersey’s march organizers have been cooperating with an organization
based in Camden, the Unity Community Center, founded 15 years ago
by an African-American man trying to fight crime and diminish violence
in his community.
"It’s Civics 101," says Wachspress. "Getting re-elected
is what it’s all about for these legislators, and if the majority
of voters make their opinion felt on this issue then the legislators
will go along."
Wachspress is confident that the public will can prevail. "That’s
why I’m working on my own placard: `It’s not the bullet, it’s the
— Nicole Plett
marches around the nation. To register call 888-989-MOMS or go to
the website: www.millionmommarch.com. Sunday, May 14.
Coalition for Peace Action, Princeton Borough Hall, 609-924-5022.
The Jewish Center at Princeton, 435 Nassau Street, 609-921-0100. The
Jewish Community Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing, 609-883-9550.
St. James Catholic Church, Pennington, 609-737-2488.
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