Granny get your gun

Dallas' pistol-packing 'Second Amendment Sister'--63-year-old grandma Mary Thompson--takes aim at a million moms

Treachery or not, many Sisters and their allies hold the Million Mom March in utter contempt. Nicknames for Moms include "The Million Moron March," "The Million Misguided Moms" and the "Commie Mommies." The Sisters admit they feel sorrow for women who have lost relatives to gun violence, but they argue those protesters have been blinded by grief.

The remaining Moms don't get off as easy: Gun defenders see them as unpatriotic rabble. The Sisters are quick to note that their demonstration had considerably more flag-waving than the Moms' confab--hence the "Commie Mommies" tag. "We started with the Pledge of Allegiance, and gave out the American flag," Thompson says. "You didn't see a flag at their march; you didn't see anything."

But the gun-rights group has its own image problem: High-spirited defense of "gun rights" is still seen as suspect in the press and many sectors of the public. Preparing the rally, Sisters tried to dispel the "gun nut" stereotype. "Please don't try to pick fights or be confrontational," said an advisory on the group's Web site. "The simple fact that we are a 'pro-gun' march means that we will be watched extra carefully, and there will be those looking to exploit any 'mistakes' we make.

In front of the Washington Monument, the Second Amendment Sisters staged a counter-demonstration to the Million Mom March.
In front of the Washington Monument, the Second Amendment Sisters staged a counter-demonstration to the Million Mom March.

"And please --no empty holsters."

On a Saturday in early May, the five founding Sisters are gathered around Mary Thompson's dining-room table. Juli Bednarzyk has a book on nonprofit management that she's been reading. She's certain the group will live on long past the Armed Informed Mothers March. "We stepped on a moving train," she says. "We're inundated with e-mails and snail mails from people saying, 'I want to do this.'"

Just who are these women? They range from young professionals like Bednarzyk to grandmothers like Thompson, and resist being pigeonholed by age, education, or other factors. But all resent the political cartoons and other media characterizations depicting them as uneducated, with "big hair" and married to a cousin. "We are professionals and business people, normal people," says Bednarzyk, a software consultant from Chicago.

The Sisters admit the counterintuitive appeal of the group: women defending guns. "It's almost an enigma," says co-founder Dianne Sawyer. "Why do women care about this?" Sawyer, whose online nickname is "pistol-packin mama," said that despite growing up around firearms, declaring her pro-gun sympathies to some friends was "like coming out of the closet."

But Kim Watson, the group's media spokeswoman and a typesetter, thinks women may be more receptive to the Sisters' message than one might guess. "I have had more people from my work come up to me and say, 'I saw you on TV, and you were great.'" Many letter writers, Thompson says, are glad the group is speaking out from a woman's perspective. The group's Internet site links to several women's self-defense books: One tome is titled Dial 911 and Die.

Meanwhile, the group is contemplating a get-out-the-vote effort. It's unclear whether they would have to form a special political arm for tax purposes to do this, but Sawyer has already thought up one rather biting slogan: "Guns or Gore."

Undisputedly, the Armed Informed Mothers March provided a strong counterpoint to the Million Mom March in the media. They were outnumbered and outspent, but nearly every major media account of the March also contained information and quotes from the Second Amendment Sisters that portrayed them as people with valid opinions, in contrast to usual depictions of the fearsome gun lobby.

One gun-rights advocate sees the Sisters' emergence as a landmark development in the gun debate. "I've been in this battle since 1974, and I've never seen gun owners this organized and energized," says Alan Gottlieb, executive director of the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation. "I welcome groups like the Second Amendment Sisters because it helps build the movement. To really have a movement you need a lot of groups, and controversies and friction among the groups."

Then there's the public relations value of a group celebrating the virtues of girls and guns. For that reason, Gottlieb hopes the group will stay active for a long time.

"They have a perfect niche," he says, "because every time a woman gets on TV and calls for gun control, they get called for comment."

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