First Lady joins 400,000 moms in march against guns

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The Independent US

The women of white, suburban America descended on Washington yesterday in the most concerted challenge to the power of the US gun lobby ever mounted.

The "Million Mom March", timed for American Mother's Day, drew as many as 400,000 people, far more than even the most optimistic of the organisers had dared hope.

The sheer numbers vindicated leading Democrats, including President Clinton, who believe that gun violence will be a major issue for voters in the November presidential election. The brainchild of Donna Dees-Thomases, a New Jersey housewife who also happens to be a former public relations executive with ties to the Democratic Party, the campaign calls for "sensible gun laws" to include the licensing of gun owners and the registration of all firearms.

Women began arriving at the National Mall in the early morning, staking out picnic spots in the shade. Hundreds of volunteers offered free bottled water, while the T-shirt and ice cream vendors did a roaring trade. Printed placards and banners called for tougher gun laws. Some memorialised friends or relatives killed by guns: "To my cousin, Teddy, killed in a gun-play accident"; "Cerrone Hemingway - in loving memory".

Mrs Clinton and Tipper Gore - whose husband, Al Gore, is running for president - both joined the march to the Mall. A phalanx of more than 1,000 motorcyclists preceded the march, in an unscheduled gesture of male solidarity.

The one disappointment for the organisers was likely to be the conspicuous absence in the crowd of black Americans, who suffer by far the highest losses from America's shocking toll of gun violence. While there was a convincing quorum of black women among the speakers, it seemed that most had preferred to celebrate Mother's Day at home.

Several of those who did march said they had encountered resentment from friends or neighbours who complained that it was only after the Columbine High School killings - where most of the victims were white - that gun violence had become a national issue.

The rally was compered by the talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, who brought roars from the crowd when she said: "Let's make our voices heard in the voting booths. Let them know when they count the ballot that we mean business ... We are the voice of the majority of Americans, and it is time we were heard."

The organisers of the Washington rally said the march was the start of a grassroots movement designed to counter the influence of the National Rifle Association and to vote pro-NRA Republicans out of office.