As gun control advocates try to reinvigorate their movement, a scaled-down Million Mom March gathered on Sunday to remember the violence that claimed some of their children and to call for laws they say will stop it.
Barely 200 area women, men and children turned up in downtown Washington amid brilliant skies and crisp spring breezes for a Mothers Day rally to promote "sensible gun laws," an event organizers also planned in 33 other states.
It was a far cry from last year's national rally for gun control on the National Mall across from the U.S. Capitol that organizers said drew 750,000 people, including talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, actresses Reese Witherspoon and Susan Sarandon and singers Melissa Etheridge and Courtney Love.
In this year's version, which was billed as a local event, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams told those assembled in a smaller area called "Freedom Plaza" that their efforts would help bring an end to gun violence.
"There's no plainer way to say it than all of you are saying and that is, our children are dying and it's time to stop it," Williams said.
Even as he spoke, some two dozen gun control opponents who had been moved across the street by police chanted "Not my mom" and "Read the Constitution" as they held up signs that included "Criminals fear armed citizens" and "Guns save lives."
Rally organizers called for legislation to license handgun owners, register handguns, oversee the manufacturing integrity of guns, limit gun purchases to no more than one a month and close the "gun show loophole" that allows people to buy weapons from unlicensed dealers without background checks at an estimated 4,400 gun shows held across America each year.
GUN VIOLENCE CLAIMS 30,000 A YEAR
About 30,000 people are killed every year in America by firearms. Gun control advocates point out the rate of firearm deaths among children 14 and younger is nearly 12 times higher than in 25 other industrial countries combined.
Among the victims was Brooke Crosland, the young daughter of Marilyn Williams-Crosland, who died after she was shot in the chest while playing on July 24, 1998.
"I wouldn't want any other person to endure the pain that I and all of the other people that loved Brooke must feel each and every day," an emotional Williams-Crosland told the rally.
Williams proudly noted that Washington was one of several cities that have filed liability suits against 23 gun makers that seek reimbursement for public spending on gun violence.
One of the manufacturers, Smith & Wesson, a unit of the British industrial group Tomkins Plc, already has agreed to make far-reaching changes in the way it makes and sells weapons, including making all of its guns with external locks and equipping them with internal locks within two years.
Despite a White House and Congress under the control of Republicans, most of whom are less friendly to gun control than Democrats, gun control groups have denied their movement is losing steam.
Since last year, a new gun control group has emerged and mothers have formed a grass-roots organization with more than 230 chapters focused on state-level efforts. The group's national office closed due to funding and administrative problems, but organizers hope to open another one soon.
President George W. Bush plans his first foray into the hot-button issue this week with an announcement in Philadelphia of a $20 million plan to hire more federal prosecutors to speed up prosecution of gun crimes, U.S. officials said last week.
During the presidential campaign, Bush blasted former President Bill Clinton for failing to enforce current gun laws, a theme sounded by gun control control opponents like the National Rifle Association, which maintains that tougher prosecution of gun-using criminals, not more restrictions, are the solution to gun violence.