Million Moms March To A Merger

When they marched on the National Mall on Mother's Day 2000, the Million Moms seemed like a force to be reckoned with. Though they never quite numbered one million, the powerful grass-roots network of fed-up parents seemed poised to change the national debate on gun control. Just a year later, though, the Moms find themselves in a whole new world. Now, with an unsympathetic president in the White House and no money left in their coffers, the group is forging a new identity. On Thursday, the Moms announced that they're merging with another longtime gun-control group-the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It's no surprise that the two groups have bonded. Though the Moms had plenty of grass-roots supporters, they had little experience in running a big nonprofit organization. When phone calls from supporters poured into headquarters after the big march last spring, the Moms didn't have enough staffers in place to deal with the deluge. Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign, had the opposite problem. The group had a solid 26-year track record, but no grass-roots troops. Barnes suggested last spring that a number of the antigun groups band together so they could take on the powerful National Rifle Association.

At first, the Moms were hesitant. They wanted to maintain their autonomy. But by this spring, when the lobby had to lay off 30 of their 35 paid staffers, it realized a merger was the only way to survive. As part of the deal, the Brady Center will assume the Moms' debt-a tab that totals more than $250,000. In return, the Brady Center will get access to members in 230 chapters across the country. "They get the army, but we need a couple generals," says Donna Dees-Thomases, chair of the Million Mom March. The Brady Center's Barnes says the move will help gun-safety supporters match the political clout of the NRA: "What's been missing in this movement has been a strong grass-roots presence."

The merger is part of a broader makeover by gun-safety advocates. Some felt the movement had grown too strident and feared it was alienating independent-minded voters, many of whom own guns but don't belong to the NRA. Last summer, billionaire Andrew McKelvey launched a new bipartisan group: Americans for Gun Safety. "We believe the time has come for a third way on the gun issue-one that supports the rights of gun owners, but also calls for greater responsibility for gun owners, dealers and manufacturers," says AGS president Jonathan Cowan. "The country has been offered a false choice on this issue between gun safety and gun rights." Now AGS is running movie trailers around the country featuring Sen. John McCain plugging efforts to close the gun-show loophole.

Others are rethinking their strategies, too. Earlier this month, the Brady Center traded in its old name-Handgun Control Inc. and the Center to Prevent Gun Violence-for one that evokes the sympathetic faces of the gun issue, Jim Brady, the White House press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and Brady's wife, Sarah. "It reflected the way most people knew us anyway," says Barnes. He believes that the group's new grass-roots approach will finally reach politicians who've been swayed in the past by the NRA. Says Barnes: "The politicians are going to hear from us in a way they have not in the past." That means the debate over guns won't get quieter any time soon.

Million Moms March To A Merger | News