By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Mary Thompson has her prey in sight. Thompson, a Dallas grandmother of six and co-founder of the women's anti-gun-control group Second Amendment Sisters, is patrolling the hallways of Capitol Hill, looking for targets in her war against gun control. What better place to find her enemy, the gun-control lobbyists and lobby-ees, than in Washington, D.C., where Thompson has traveled for a pro-gun rally? Her first sitting-duck target: Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, as the gun-control advocate steps into the hallway after a Democratic Party hearing.
Thompson begins firing verbal salvos as she tails Boxer down the hall. "I would appreciate it," she says, "if you would keep your hands off my means of protecting myself when the occasion arises." Thompson, a short firebrand, continues shadowing the senator even as Boxer insists she isn't trying to repeal anyone's rights.
"Yes, you are!" a livid Thompson shoots back. "You know it, and I know it!"
Boxer then stages a hasty retreat, losing her pursuer by ducking into the women's restroom.
Eager for another joust, Thompson heads back to the hearing room to confront Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's minority leader. After waiting in a line of well-wishers, she finally reaches Daschle and offers counsel, arguing that gun control only abets criminals with a knack for finding guns regardless of the law. "Criminals do not obey laws," she scolds him. "You can sit here and pass as many laws as you want, and in the end, the criminals will not obey them either."
Declining to take the bait, Daschle responds with a disarmingly pleasant reassurance, sounding like Chance the Gardener: "I understand," he says. Stunned at her failure to provoke, Thompson follows up with a vaguely threatening promise. "I will not give up my right to arm myself to defend myself," she declares. "I can tell you I am not alone." In reply to that vow of insurrection from the militant grandmother (who lives in a Far North Dallas neighborhood that probably won't rise up anytime soon), Daschle offers a terse rejoinder: "I hear you."
The rattling of Boxer and Daschle all went down when Thompson and another "Sister" crashed a somewhat obscure Democratic Party gathering broadcast on C-SPAN and held on May 15 in a U.S. Senate office building, a day after the pro-gun-control Million Mom March. That morning, representatives of the Million Mom March; a teacher shot during the Columbine massacre; Washington, D.C., police chief Charles Ramsey; and at least three women whose children were killed by firearms testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, all calling for tougher firearms laws to abate gun violence.
Thompson wasn't packing heat that day--her concealed-weapons permit is no good in handgun-hostile D.C.--but as evidence from her Capitol Hill skirmishes, she's a loaded pistol regardless. Wearing a plethora of anti-Clinton and anti-gun-control buttons ("No gun control victims," one read), the native Texan and a fellow Sister, Kathy Wood of Burke, Virginia, arrived to agitate. "This was a typical Democrat propaganda production--a one-sided photo-op and sound bite on one volatile issue without anyone to counter the spin," scoffed Wood.
If Wood's statement seems overheated, that may be because the committee she crashed isn't a real deliberative panel but a consensus-building arm allowing Democrats to meet with citizens and political allies in a quasi-official setting. (Republicans hold similar functions.) Senate panels count both Republicans and Democrats as members--and more of the former since the GOP holds a five-member majority. Such distinctions meant little to the gatecrashers; they seethed at the idea of lawmakers' meeting gun-control advocates. "They were just trying to schmooze with the Million Moms and let them tell their sad stories," Thompson says. "I was shaking my head at the blatant lies they were telling."
Under the heading "Basil [Thompson's online identity] FReeps Barbara Boxer, Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy--After-Action Report," the raucous incident is recounted on "Free Republic," a popular Web site (www.freerepublic.org) where conservatives, Libertarians, and other wags dissect the day's news stories and revel in an orgy of Clinton-Gore bashing. "FReeping," a take on the name Free Republic, is slang for the Web collective's variety of protest, which is always outspoken and sometimes ribald, especially where President Clinton is involved.
In the milieu of right-wing Web sites, the Boxer and Daschle "FReeps" amounted to bagging big game. But the day's crowning moment occurred minutes later when Thompson stumbled upon the office of Sen. Teddy Kennedy, the king of congressional liberals and a longtime gun-control proponent. On paper provided by Kennedy's office, she left a nasty note for the nation's most famous lawmaker, referencing the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident in which a young campaign worker was killed after Kennedy drove off a bridge near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. It read:
Mr. Kennedy: My guns have killed fewer people than your car. Keep your hands off my right to defend myself. I think you will find that right enumerated in the Second Amendment of our beloved Constitution. You have read that document, haven't you? Sincerely, Mary Thompson
A receptionist made a dubious promise that Kennedy senator would personally receive the note. Meanwhile, Wood, who earlier chased one of Daschle's aides down a staircase in a fit of anti-gun-control vexation, was eager to bag one last "FReeping" victim. All available senators had dispersed; the office staff would have to do. "I don't know how people who work for these guys can sleep at night," she bellowed as they left Kennedy's office.