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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

this issue."

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

ballot stupid.’"

— Nicole Plett

Million Mom March, The Mall, Washington, D.C., and community-based

marches around the nation. To register call 888-989-MOMS or go to

the website: Sunday, May 14.

Area organizations offering bus transportation include: The

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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