e-mail us


History, hope merge as moms march

There were less than a million at the Million Mom March, but also more -- a parade of women that stretches across America and beyond our shores. They were and are protesting against guns, which are matters of life and death, which is where women, to oversimplify, excel. Time will tell whether theirs was a one-day wonder or the beginning of a new politics, but hope did surge briefly May 14.

It’s not always easy to read the signs of the times. The din on television was as loud as on the Mall in Washington. Debate, no doubt, was always so: humans outshouting each other or being outshouted. All too often the loudest voice prevails. But occasionally the still, small voice of reason or inspiration leaps above the noise. It could be heard distinctly that Sunday.

The small voice is all too timid, it could be argued, it’s agenda surprisingly modest: a call for registration of all handguns; the licensing of handgun owners; mandatory safety locks; and thorough background checks before all gun sales. This is small potatoes when the mothers could be asking for the abolition of 90 percent of the country’s guns, which would put us on a par with most of the rest of the world.

Slogans and stale arguments ricochet off every television screen. Guns don’t kill people, people do -- and more of the same. Then there is the old standby of the National Rifle Association: There’s no need for new laws if we would just enforce the laws we have, this chestnut goes. (On the subject of guns, the NRA should get equal time with plumbers, clowns and, let’s say, clergy, but they are presented as one side of the shouting match as if they were half of the population.) The small voice spoke up May 14 and said there are a multitude of rules for the road, but still there’s need to register cars and license drivers, part of the price we pay for living together more safely. But these clichés are only echoes of the cacophony, of the way our fears and animosities fester and result in the shouting and shooting that is the jittery current state of the human race.

All the small voices became for a day a big voice and scared the hell out of the NRA, which referred to the march as “a political agenda masquerading as motherhood.” This mothers’ march is not the first or the last march. History is full of such memorable occasions. Many of these outings become history petrified on the spot. Some, however, go marching on, and the ideas behind them grow legs -- the ideas whose time has come.

It’s a small hope in the real world: that commonsense might prevail and the guns get put away, and that the country in time might become a great national gun museum. Yet the small voice says a day will surely come when we as a race will look back and see with astonishment how insane our situation was, how utterly, incredibly stupid. If that day fails to come, God help us.

National Catholic Reporter, May 26, 2000