Bigoted Moms Tempered

A new day slowly dawns.

By Ari Armstrong, editor of the Colorado Freedom Report, & Dave Kopel research director, Independence Institute.

National Review Online. May 11, 2001 8:55 a.m. More by Kopel on anti-gun groups.

This Mother's Day, the "Million" Mom group will rally at the state capitols around the nation to demand new laws restricting the freedom of gun owners. Unfortunately, an observation by Oliver Wendell Holmes aptly describes the leadership of the "Million" Mom organization: "The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract."

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a bigoted person as one who is "obstinately and blindly attached to some creed, opinion, or party and intolerant towards others." Million Mom March National President Mary Leigh Blek claims, "We need to cry out in one loud voice that we love our children more than the gun lobby loves its guns."

Blek's comment is clearly bigoted. She suggests that gun owners do not love children, even their own. She paints her group as a grassroots effort taking on the behemoth "gun lobby," a reified "it" rather than a group of people. In reality, Blek's own anti-gun lobby operates in a way similar to, say, the National Rifle Association. Yes, the NRA has a lot of money, but that's because its four million grass-roots members send in donations. Thus, the NRA is much more of a grassroots organization than is Blek's group, which attracted less than a hundred thousand donors.

Blek suggests that gun owners have some sort of fetishistic "love" for their guns which causes them to willfully endanger their own children. Again, reality tells a different story. Millions of American parents own guns precisely to protect their children from violent criminals.

A gun-control advocate who wasn't a bigot might say something like, "Both sides of the gun debate want to protect children; but the pro-gun people are mistaken for thinking that guns will help. The best way to protect children is to have more gun control." But instead, the Million Mom group makes the outrageous accusation that Second Amendment supporters are so subhuman that they don't care about children's lives — that they only love inanimate objects. This kind of hate-mongering is the same charge that anti-Semites have long made about Jews — that Jews don't have normal human emotion, and that Jews kill children.

Rather than talk about why she thinks her policies would improve public safety, Blek demonizes guns and their owners. She fits the definition of intolerant: "disposed to persecute those who differ."

The Million Mom group is pushing a program called "ask for safety." The idea is that the children of non-gun owners aren't supposed to play with the children of gun owners.

Not too long ago, some white parents forbade their children to play with children of different races. These bigoted parents would sometimes use a safety pretext, claiming that people of other races were dirty or were crime-prone, or the like.

The MMM's bigoted opinions about gun owners are no more factual than are bigoted racial opinions. Seventy million Americans own over 250 million firearms, and over 99.9 percent do so safely and responsibly. Even though the Million Moms try to blame law-abiding gun owners for crimes, in fact the crime rate is driven almost entirely by hard-core repeat criminals. In terms of accidents, in 1999 there was a total of 96,900 deaths by unintentional injury of all types, and less than one percent of these deaths, 700, involved a firearm (National Safety Council). In 1997, 142 children ages 0-14 died of unintentional gun fire, while 185 died by choking, 676 by burns, 965 by drowning, and 2,900 by car crashes.

But the statistics tend to obscure the root problem. People who are irresponsible with guns are also irresponsible with cars, water, and throat-sized objects. We should want our children to play where they are monitored by responsible adults. Unfortunately, the Million Moms' program is not about ensuring careful supervision, it is about ostracism and exclusion.

At last year's Mother's Day event in Denver, Jeff Wright was peacefully carrying a sign expressing his support of the Second Amendment, an action the First Amendment affirms is his right. One woman wearing a "Million Mom" T-shirt walked up and spat on him.

In Fort Collins last August, the "Million" Mom group advertised a "public" meeting, so a small group of civil arms activists, led by Bob Glass, showed up to take notes. Million Mom member Cherie Trine described Glass's group to Boulder Weekly columnist Wayne Laugesen as "a neo-Nazi group that wants to terrorize the whole community. They're very anti-Semitic, anti-gay, racist people. They might as well be wearing KKK caps. They're like the people who hate government and want to bomb federal buildings." In fact, Glass is a Jew who advocates civil rights for everyone and denounces acts of violence.

Apparently, Trine's demonization of Glass and his friends made it easier for her to strike one of them with a clipboard, resulting in her subsequent arrest.

Assaults and other violence by Million Mom members have been documented in other places, including Philadelphia. In one case the Second Amendment Sisters found their property destroyed. No one is suggesting that the Million Mom organization directly advocated the assaults, property damage, or spitting. But the Million Mom group does foment a climate of rage and intolerance. And there is no indication that the Million Mom March has denounced the criminal conduct by its members or taken steps to remove those members. When the Colorado Million Mom March was asked what actions were taken concerning Cherie Trine, the representative replied, "no comment."

The MMM's opposition to violence, even to gun violence, appears to be rather selective. Shortly after last-year's rallies, the press revealed that MMM poster-person Rosie O'Donnell has hired an armed bodyguard for her child, and the bodyguard wanted to bring his firearm onto school property.

Also speaking on the Washington Mall with Ms. O'Donnell last year was Barbara Graham. Several weeks later, Ms. Graham was arrested for shooting 22-year-old Kikko Smith in the spine, paralyzing him. Graham incorrectly thought that Smith was connected to the murder of her own son. When Graham's home was searched pursuant to her arrest, four handguns were found, including a TEC-9. How did the MMM react to Graham's arrest for gun violence? The Washington Post reported that "the women from Million Moms are backing her at her trial."

The jury, however, convicted her of aggravated assault with intent to kill.

Now imagine that a speaker at the biggest rally in NRA history was arrested for shooting an innocent person in a plainly unjustified act of (misdirected) revenge, just a few weeks after the rally. And suppose that the NRA "stood by" the shooter who had paralyzed an innocent young man. You'd hear howls of protests against the NRA from Boston to Honolulu, and those protests would be justified. NRA memberships would plummet, and gun rights advocates would desert it, and instead join gun policy groups which didn't tolerate criminal violence.

Perhaps the same thing is happening with the MMM. Even at the group's peak, last Mothers Day, the "Million" Mom rally attracted about one-tenth of a million people in Washington. Last weekend, the state MMM rally in Charlotte, North Carolina was supposed to attract thousands, but instead drew only 125-150.

Nationally, the MMM has laid off 30 of its 35 paid staff, and has been expelled from its offices in the San Francisco General Hospital, which were apparently obtained under false pretenses.

The "Million" Mom March was the darling of the establishment media last year, but the election victories that it promised never materialized. Today, the focus of attention in the gun-control movement is no longer the mean-spirited "Million" Mom March, but instead the more temperate Americans for Gun Safety (AGS). In terms of actual policies, AGS differs hardly at all from the MMM. (Indeed the big donor behind AGS also gave generously to MMM.) But AGS is pursuing its goals by making policy arguments, not by denouncing gun-owners as child-killers. For that reason, the new prominence of AGS, and the decline of MMM, represent a welcome step forward for tolerance and decency.

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