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After that last salvo, the Sisters left the building to lunch at nearby Union Station. The amusing episode begs the question: Why would two older women invade a Democratic Party gathering to mock elected officials and threaten armed revolution? The incident could be dismissed as the doings of a pair of harmless fringe characters running amok for the day.
But the "fringe" part of that assessment would be off base. That's because Thompson is a leader of the latest grassroots right-to-bear-arms group to make a splash in the American scene for some time, reaping national media attention and clearly demonstrating that gun advocacy is no longer a male-dominated concern. On May 14, the Second Amendment Sisters gathered thousands of women to effectively protest the much larger Million Mom March, an unprecedented protest in its own right that challenged the legendary power of the gun lobby. The Sisters--"pro-gun mamas," as the New York Daily News labeled them--are increasingly ready to challenge the notion that women and families are safer when gun access is restricted. "I believe so firmly in the Second Amendment," says Thompson, an admittedly paranoid absolutist who sees all gun-control laws as steps toward eventual confiscation of firearms, pointing to Stalin's Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Pol Pot's Cambodia as tyrannies that murdered citizens after disarming them. "There is a war on our rights," she says, "and we have to stop it."
Right or wrong, Thompson's uncompromising message is resonating nationwide, bringing a whole new constituency into the right-to-bear-arms fold--and creating a grassroots group with more credibility than the faceless "gun lobby" supposedly embodied by the NRA. (All of the founding Sisters are NRA members, Thompson says, but the group has avoided donations from the larger organization because it has been "demonized" in the press.)
As word circulates, gun-friendly women are flocking to join the Sisters and voice their belief that (largely unregulated) firearm ownership is crucial to protection of their families. They say media hype over school shootings has eclipsed the positives of guns. "You never hear stories about self-defense in the paper," says Dianne Sawyer, a founding Sister from Lexington, South Carolina.
Arming herself only three years ago after strange men tailed her car and she felt threatened, Thompson now sees herself as a defender of Constitutional liberties. Alluding to the Second Amendment, she asks: "What part of 'shall not be infringed' don't you understand?"
Men, young people, and even a blue-haired punk show up to support the Sisters. Adding to the patriotic fervor of the event, a man wanders through the crowd dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier, carrying a powder horn and wearing a tricornered hat. Identifying himself only as "an American citizen," he tells reporters that he came to the rally "because we have some people on the other side who want to destroy the Bill of Rights because some mothers don't control their children properly."
Texas state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, a Republican crucial in securing passage of Texas' concealed carry law, gives the rally's keynote speech. "That pesky old Second Amendment, that darned archaic document always gets in the way of reasonable, common-sense legislation," she says, mocking rhetoric of gun-control advocates.
Hupp is an animated spokeswoman for the cause because of personal experience. Nine years ago at a crowded cafeteria in Killeen, Hupp was enjoying a meal with her parents when a lunatic gunman rammed a truck through the window and began shooting people, methodically pumping rounds into diners cowering under tables. Hupp somehow escaped, but her parents were not so lucky. They were among 24 victims of one of the nation's deadliest mass shootings ever.
Since then, Hupp has been haunted by her certainty that she could have saved them if she hadn't left her then-illegal handgun in the car. As she sees it, the government legislated away her right to defend her family. "I refuse to ever be an easy victim again," says Hupp, who has campaigned nationwide for concealed carry laws. "Why don't they concentrate on the criminals and leave law-abiding citizens alone?" (On the other hand, many survivors of gun violence, such as Handgun Control's Sarah Brady, have gone the other way to support more restrictions.)
Later in the morning, the Sisters march to the Capitol past the Million Mom protest, attracting boos and jeers from the gun-control crowd. Kim Watson, a co-founder from Tallahassee, Florida, says she saw a Mom give her the finger and a child yell, "You should be shot." Gun supporters later professed shock that some Moms treated them with derision; they say they didn't respond in kind.
Along the way to the Capitol, the Sisters also sing lively chants, including "Second Amendment: A civil right" and "Guns save lives." When the procession passes the National Archives, another call-and-response begins. "The Constitution is in that building. Read it," the marchers chant.