April 6, 2000
Million Mom March
By Marlene Adler Marks
Until Buford O. Furrow, Jr. opened fire on the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) in Granada Hills last August, the fight for sensible gun laws was something most of us left to our elected representatives. Even for a community of activists, the money and rhetoric of the gun lobby shouted us down.
No more. Legislators can only do so much. This year, with the distraction of national elections, Congress won't act unless pushed. It is up to us. We must get our voices back.
Here's how. On Mother's Day, May 14, the Million Mom March will be held in Washington, D.C., with rallies at 20 other venues throughout the nation, including two in Los Angeles: the Federal Building in West Los Angeles and downtown on Olvera Street.
There you will hear more of what you already know: that each day 14 children die from gun wounds. American children are more than 12 times as likely to be victims of gun violence than children of any other developed nation. Violence is ripping at the heart of America.
Yes, you've heard it before, but this time is different. Even the most cynical political observers are saying that the march has struck a nerve. It coalesces two political trends: the rise of "soccer moms," who have been a potent electoral force for the last decade, and the rise of citizen antiviolence activists, whose power is yet unknown.
Facing the ire of soccer moms and moms of JCC campers, Congress may indeed act.
The Million Mom March is a direct response to the tragedy at the NVJCC. On the march's Web site, www.millionmommarch.com, Donna Dees-Thomases, a Short Hills, NJ, mother of two, recounts that the JCC violence shocked her out of her complacency. She immediately took out a parade permit for the Washington march. Since August, responding to story after story of unimaginable mayhem, the grass-roots movement has grown.
The legislative agenda of the march includes the most obvious, common-sense reforms: gun licensing and registration, mandatory safety locks, and background checks for gun purchase. These minimum corrections, which should be no-brainers, may take years to accomplish, given the amped-up force of the NRA and the potential of a George W. Bush presidency.
"We hope that after the march, participants will be moved to work with us on all the state and national issues," says Ann Reiss Lane of the L.A.-based Women Against Gun Violence.
The responses of moms whose children were at the JCC during Furrow's rampage have been inspiring. Loren Lieb and Donna Finkelstein, the mothers, respectively, of shooting victims Joshua Stepakoff, then 6, and 16-year-old JCC counselor Mindy Finkelstein, will make the trip to Washington along with Gail Powers, mother of 4-year-old Nathan, who was in a classroom during the shooting. They'll be joined by a local contingent including Nancy Parris Moskowitz, president of the NVJCC, and a group from Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.
These moms claim neither hero nor victim status for having endured the terror of Furrow's bullets. Quite the opposite.
"Shame on us for not acting earlier," Powers told me. As western coordinator for the march, Powers stresses the need for broad community outreach: there are no safe borders to the gun epidemic.
Lieb (who is an epidemiologist in the Los Angeles County Health Department, with a specialty in children with HIV) was not an activist until Joshua was shot. "I've read about it and wanted to do something, but I still didn't believe it would affect me. Now it's painfully clear: none of us are immune from gun violence."
Gun control has been an agenda item for national Jewish groups for decades. Still, representatives of several national Jewish organizations told me that the MMM is making it a higher priority.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), made sensible gun control a centerpiece of his annual address to the Reform movement last December. Pamphlets and information about the MMM have been sent to the Reform movement's 850-plus synagogues. The UAHC's Religious Action Committee has hosted a consortium of religious groups, which will appear at the rally.
Moreover, virtually all Jewish movements are behind the Million Mom March. That's right. Gun control is the one issue that all Jews can still agree upon. The Orthodox Union is working with the Reform movement to get safety locks on guns!
Want a thrill? Visit the OU website (www.ou.org) and read Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz's article, "Gun Control: A Jewish Look." Then click on Mark J. Pelavin's opinion piece "Jewish Values and Gun Control," for the Reform movement: rj.org/rac/news/mjpgunoped.html.
Gun control falls under the same religious precept as putting a gate around a roof. It carries the same rabbinic weight as ensuring workers' safety in a factory. If they can agree that gun control is necessary, what's stopping you?
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.