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Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Mothers for and against guns
The Million Mom March
Incidents of gun violence motivated moms to march
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Only weeks before the Million Mom March, I got an e-mail urging me to attend the rally.

It was from a fellow journalist who was shocked by the shooting outside the National Zoo here in Washington.

The zoo is a short walk from her home, and only a five-minute walk from mine.

Seven youths were wounded in the shooting, when a 16-year-old boy allegedly opened fire on a crowd of children at an African-American Family Day event at the zoo.

Shocked by shootings

Shootings such as this, in schools, at shopping malls and in the workplace have shocked Americans over the last few years.

A marcher carries a sign with a picture of a victim
Marchers remembered victims of gun violence

Anne Norman was one of an estimated half million marchers in Washington.

She came from Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania to attend the event.

Three people were shot at the McDonald's in her neighbourhood in February. Two people died in that attack.

And she says: "We just had two shooting sprees in eight weeks right next to my neighbourhood."

In April, another gunman killed five people in a racially motivated shooting spree.

Compromise necessary

Ms Norman was carrying a sign that said, "I love the Constitution, but the 2nd Amendment just blows me away."

A protestor carries a sign calling for gun control laws
Anne Norman takes aim at the Second Amendment

She believes that a compromise can be found that protects the rights of gun owners but helps to eliminate gun violence.

"What we really need is to let the people who want to hunt have their rifles, and to keep the handguns, which have no other use but to kill people, out of our cities," she said.

Gun group targeted

Many at the march thought the National Rifle Association is standing in the way of the gun control laws that they want passed.

A protestor carries an anti-NRA sign
The NRA was a target for marchers

Some of them chanted: "Hey, Hey, NRA, how many kids have you killed today."

Others carried signs that said: "Keep the NRA out of the Oval Office."

These signs were in response to an advertisement that tried to link Republican George W Bush with the gun rights group.

In the advertisement, an NRA representative says, "If we win we'll have a president ... where we work out of their office."

Culture of violence

Ironically, the city hosting the march, Washington DC, has had one of the highest per capita murder rates of any city in the US, and yet the city has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

Washington's Police Chief Charles Ramsey was out to support the marchers.

I think that if the Founding Fathers knew what was going on now, the Second Amendment would read a little differently

Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey

The last time I saw Chief Ramsey, he was walking behind a line of his officers in riot gear, calming them as they stood facing a line of protesters a few blocks from the World Bank and IMF.

Today, he was dressed in the T-shirt of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

"I'm not an advocate of banning firearms, but I do think there needs to be sensible gun control," he said.

Tougher gun laws are the first step, but Chief Ramsey added that Americans needed to address the culture of violence.

"We live in a society that sends messages that really help spawn violence," he said.

In addition to focusing on gun manufacturers, he said that producers of movies and music that glamorised violence also needed to be held responsible.

Second Amendment Sisters

But gun owners see some of the proposals by the organisers of the Million Mom March as holding law abiding citizens responsible for the acts of criminals who use guns.

A gun owner protests registration laws
Some fear their weapons will be taken away

And they see these proposals as the first step to the government taking their guns away.

On the other side of the Washington Monument, pro-gun women calling themselves the Second Amendment Sisters gathered.

Ginger Berglund and Bev Wolke came all the way from Minnesota to stand up for their Constitutional right to bear arms.

"If they take our right to own guns away from us, do you think that the criminals won't be able to get their hands on guns?" Ms Wolke said. "We'll be victimised."

Ms Berglund said that honest, law-abiding citizens suffered from the irresponsible acts of others.

She believes that the problem of violence in the US could be addressed by enforcing existing laws and teaching children responsible use of guns.

"The judicial system has to start enforcing the laws that are already there. We'd be a lot safer if they would just do that," Ms Berglund said.

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See also:

19 Jan 00 | Americas
Clinton plans assault on guns
01 Mar 00 | Americas
Charlton Heston defends gun laws
15 Apr 00 | Americas
Two die in US teen shooting
01 Mar 00 | Americas
Firearms: A civil liberties issue?
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