April 20, 2019

Because mom said so

Identifying a diversity of women simply as moms in these identity-sensitive times is full of risk, but the million or hundred thousand marchers Sunday in Washington and 60 other cities have an unusual opportunity as moms this Mother’s Day. They can fulfill the traditional role of mom as the glue that holds a family together by persuasively, not confrontationally, making the debate over handgun regulation an issue of public health and seeking agreement among the broad middle of American opinion.

The Million Mom March has its own set of legislative goals — federal laws mandating waiting periods for handguns; safety locks for handguns; expanded background checks; a purchase limit for handguns of one per month. They are goals that Congress has heard before, debated before and walked away from before. Whether they are, as the leaders of the march assert, common sense or, as their opponents claim, a feel-good infringement on a constitutional right, seems hardly to matter anymore.

The founders of the march say they look to Mothers Against Drunk Driving for inspiration. But as important as any piece of legislation MADD championed, its success began through its ability to change how this nation regarded drinking and drunkenness. MADD made everyone aware of the problem of drunken driving, made designated drivers popular and even prompted beer brewers to devise their own safety campaigns. After MADD, hardly anyone talked about one for the road.”

The changes did not happen quickly and they didn’t happen without strong resistance (like gun owners, brewers have powerful Washington lobbyists, too) but they happened because MADD got hold of a broad concept — alcohol abuse endangers children — and built consensus. The same could happen with the handgun issue.

Nearly 12 children a day in 1997 were killed by gun fire, according to the moms. It is a compelling statistic that should force agreement on some of the easier issues — both sides, for instance, agree on gun education and safety programs for gun-owning families, many gun owners would support background checks at gun shows. But more important than these is building the expectation that responsible gun ownership is not merely an option, but is demanded of everyone.

One march won’t do it, but an accumulation of events could. That’s why Smith & Wesson’s recent safety decisions, or, more locally, Gov. Angus King’s State of the State message on gun legislation and even the failed bills in the Maine Legislature were important. They each contributed to the expectation that society takes gun safety seriously; they each offered a place, besides the two extremes, on which the public could stand.

The moral authority of moms marching can bring disparate sides together on guns, reuniting a “family” divided, harmfully, over this issue.

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