BY CLINTON DICK
Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Mary Leigh Blek, director of the Million Mom March, met with students and members of the community at the Kennedy School of Government to talk about gun control and whether legislation can reduce gun violence. Sarah Brady was originally scheduled to attend, but she had to cancel at the last minute because of medical tests (Brady disclosed a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2001).
While Barnes and Blek conceded that gun control organizations like the Brady Campaign were on the defensive politically, they both contended that grassroots campaigns could be instrumental in pressuring Congress to take further preventive gun measures.
Blek, whose son was shot and killed with a “Saturday-night special” (police slang for a cheap handgun), organized the Million Mom March to prevent gun violence. On Mother’s Day 2000, over 750,000 individuals gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC as part of Blek’s campaign. A similar event is scheduled for Mother Day’s 2004.
“Gun violence brings me here tonight and it is an American tragedy,” Blek began. “I am filled with hope at a room full of individuals who want to discuss the issue. I salute you for your attendance.”
“Many say how we protect and care for our children says a lot about our society. How can we reconcile that with the fact that gun violence for children under the age of 15 is fifteen times higher than 25 other industrialized nations combined,” Blek asked rhetorically. “I didn’t realize that until I got that knock on my door [telling me my son had been killed].”
Barnes praised the state of Massachusetts for passing gun control laws that work. Ever ready with a statistic, Barnes recited that in 2000, the six states with the highest rates of gun ownership had homicide rates three times higher than the six states with the lowest gun ownership. Barnes said, “60 percent of the gun crimes in the state of Massachusetts” were the result of guns bought outside the state.
Barnes also pointed out that the 1994 federal legislation banning assault weapons expires next year. “It is almost certain the way Congress is that it will not be renewed. This is crazy,” he said. “We had a vote last week in the House on whether or not to make the gun industry the only industry in the U.S. you cannot sue. It passed in the House. . . and is going to the Senate where it has over fifty co-sponsors.”
Most of the questions and comments from the audience centered on what individuals could do to formulate the gun control issue so that it was less about the Second Amendment and more about the need to reduce gun violence. One individual asked whether “guns in the home were a problem or irresponsible gun owners a problem;” Barnes’ answer: “both.”
In response to one student’s concern that it was political suicide to support gun control, Barnes said, “our goal is to make members of Congress more afraid of the moms than the NRA.”