By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Thompson resides in an upper-middle-class neighborhood a few blocks north of Frankford Road, where most homes are valued in the $200,000-to-$300,000 range. Even so, the neighbors are probably the kind of "pubbie" that people on the Free Republic site call RINOS--short for "Republicans In Name Only"--since gun control, as Thompson tells it, is highly desired here.
"'But Mary, don't you want to save the children?'" she says in a mock whimper, imitating a neighbor not hip on guns. "I gently try to say, 'You need to think about this from all the angles.'"
From that, Second Amendment Sisters was born, announcing its presence to the world this January. With little more than a shoestring Web site (http://www.sas-aim.org/), word-of-mouth, and press from talk-radio outlets, the Sisters attracted an estimated 1,500 to 5,000 people to their Armed Informed Mothers March. Through the Internet, the women found more than 120 volunteers and 45 state chairwomen (and men). "We are five women who didn't meet each other before the rally," Thompson says of the group's five founders. "We organized in cyberspace with no experience and no money."
Nearly two months later, those efforts have paid off considerably. The group has won real estate in the gun debate. The name Second Amendment Sisters is now memorable to casual CNN viewers. Still, Thompson admits the whole thing was a crapshoot up until the morning of the march. "We were praying there would be more people in front than on stage," she recalls.
While supporters are clamoring for membership cards and volunteer duties, the Sisters haven't yet set up a formal membership. But they vow to continue the momentum started at the Armed Informed Mothers March. To plot a post-Million Mom course for the group, the five founders recently met at Thompson's house in Dallas. They also used the occasion to go to a local firing range together and polish their target skills.
Renewed activism on both sides of the gun-control debate arrives as the issue gains traction in the current presidential race. Last year, the mighty National Rifle Association smashed a strong gun-control push in Congress, an amazing feat in the wake of last spring's Columbine bloodbath.
Despite that victory, gun-control opponents know there's no time to rest. A second attempt at gun control is gestating in Congress, championed by lawmakers who sense a public still appalled by mass killings. The latest call to arms for gun advocates came at the 3.6 million-member NRA's recent annual convention when actor and NRA President Charlton Heston held a musket high in the air, defiantly declared, "From my cold, dead hands," and pledged that his organization would fight to derail Vice President Al Gore's candidacy. (Despite his strong gun-control stance, Gore insists he doesn't want to "disarm America.")
The Million Mom March was the first recent attempt by gun-control supporters to counter NRA clout with equal mettle. The march was also notable for bringing suburbanites together with less wealthy inner-city moms, long estranged politically, to fight together. The group packed its crowd into six blocks of grass between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol for a daylong rally. It also sponsored well-attended rallies in at least 70 other cities, including Fort Worth.
The Sisters argue the Moms couldn't have attracted 750,000 pilgrims by any stretch: They peg attendance, at most, to 150,000 Moms. A page on their Web site titled "Million Mom Math" features an aerial photo of the rally that looks quite spare compared with a jam-packed photo of the Promise Keepers' 1997 rally in Washington. Debate over attendance will never be settled, however, because U.S. Park Police officials stopped making estimates after the Nation of Islam attacked them as racist for counting only 400,000 sojourners at 1995's Million Man March.
The Sisters and other pan-bangers also point to the background of the Million Mom March's founder, Donna Dees-Thomases. Originally billing herself as a regular "soccer mom" from New Jersey, Dees-Thomases said the idea for a march was born after she watched news footage last year of children fleeing from a Jewish day-care center in Los Angeles after a psychotic racist gunman opened fire, wounding five children. Enough, Dees-Thomases said she recalled thinking. A week later, she applied for a permit for 10,000 people to march on the Capitol.
The "soccer mom" characterization, however, isn't entirely accurate. Minivan or not, Dees-Thomases draws her paycheck from CBS as a publicist for David Letterman; she has also flacked for Dan Rather. On top of that, Dees-Thomases is the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases, the television producer and well-known close friend of the Clintons.
The news media was slow to pick up the Dees-Thomases-Clinton connection, an omission angrily noted in the conservative press. To Thompson and other Clinton bashers, any link to Slick Willie is evidence of treachery. To be sure, however, it seems improbable that any politician's friend could manufacture a movement capable of bringing tens of thousands of people to Washington. It's more likely Dees-Thomases merely tapped a rich vein of Columbine-inspired angst already present in the body politic and adeptly shaped it into relevance.