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Jack Kelly: A muddled mom march

Facts about guns didn't deter the women in Washington

Sunday, May 21, 2000

News organizations estimated attendance at last weekend's Million Mom March at between 500,000 and 750,000, which was curious, because aerial photographs indicated the crowd was less than half the size of the Promise Keepers rally held in the same spot in 1997. The Park Police estimated turnout for that event at 300,000.

  Jack Kelly is national affairs writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. His e-mail address is 

The news media describe the organizer of the march, Donna Dees-Thomases, as a housewife from New Jersey, though she is also a long-time worker in Democratic campaigns and the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases - the lawyer who is Hillary Clinton's best friend and political ally.

Dees-Thomases says her group favors "sensible" gun controls. But her Web site indicates what she thinks is "sensible" goes far beyond trigger locks and background checks. "While we acknowledge that guns may be necessary for hunting, law enforcement and national security, the proliferation of firearms . . . has become untenable."

"There is no reason for anyone to own a handgun," said a marcher quoted by The New York Times.

Dees-Thomases claims that "13 children a day" are killed by guns, a figure she comes up with by counting as "children" everyone under 20, and mixing those killed as a result of crime with those killed in accidents.

It is terrible whenever a child kills another child with a gun, whether accidentally or on purpose. But it happens far less often than Dees-Thomases and her friends in newsrooms would have us believe. Accidental gun deaths are the lowest since figures began being kept in 1903. In 1997, only 142 children under 15 died in gun accidents. More children died from accidents involving bikes, space heaters and drownings. In 1996, there were 17 accidental gun deaths for children under 5, and 42 for children under 10.

Children are more likely to be murdered than to be killed in gun accidents. But of 738 children under 13 murdered in the United States in 1997, just 133 were killed by guns, according to the FBI.

Gun-control advocates muddle crime and accident data because there is no evidence to support their contention that lawful private ownership of firearms increases gun violence. Rates of violent crime fell dramatically in the 1990s, even as gun ownership rose to an all-time high. Nearly 40 percent of voters own guns now, compared with 27.6 percent in 1988.

Research by University of Chicago professor John Lott, the nation's leading authority on gun violence, indicates that crime rates fell further in states that permit law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns than in states that don't.

But most women think guns are icky. And many women think their feelings should trump facts, logic, law and the rights of others.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter was on a TV show recently with Lott and a housewife advocating gun control. "The gun control advocate advised as how her elderly mother had recently purchased a handgun. This horrified her. Lott told the woman she needn't worry, his studies showed that guns used defensively in crimes are turned against their owners less than 1 percent of the time," Coulter recalled. Lott went on to say that 98 percent of the time, just brandishing a gun is enough to get the criminal to break off his attack.

Lott's facts made no impression on the woman, Coulter said. "The housewife retorted - and I quote: 'Well, that's not my opinion.' "

Beyond requiring background checks to prevent sales of firearms to people with criminal records or mental problems, gun control measures can do little to reduce crime. Killers and robbers don't stop because it is also illegal to possess the firearm they're using. "Gun control laws only work on already law-abiding citizens," Camille Paglia said.

Better enforcement does reduce gun deaths. But of more than 400,000 felons barred from buying guns under the Brady bill, fewer than 1,000 have been prosecuted for lying on their applications. Of 6,000 youths caught trying to sneak guns into schools since 1996, only 17 have been prosecuted. Overall, gun law prosecutions are down 25 percent from the last year of the Bush administration.

President Clinton is the nation's top law enforcement officer. Hillary Clinton was at the Million Mom rally. The other moms might have asked her why her husband has done so little to enforce existing law. But that would have required learning a few facts, and thinking about them. It was easier for the women just to express their feelings.

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