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Thousands Attend March in Washington Against Gun Violence - 2004-05-09

Thousands of people celebrated Mother's Day in Washington by taking part in competing rallies to address the issue of guns and the social scourge of gun violence.

The Million Mom March refers largely to mothers who oppose the devastation gun violence can wreak on their families. The first Million Mom March drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington in 2000.

Sunday's all-day event included an interfaith worship service, a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol building and a march that ended several blocks away from the White House.

Speaking at the religious service, the National Council of Churches' Brenda Girton-Mitchell urged the crowd to speak out against gun violence. "Today, we march on our nation's capital, saying you must confront the violence, the gun violence, and say that we value lives more than we value guns. We march to halt the assault on our families and safety," she said.

The service included Sikh music, as well as comments by a Muslim religious leader and Jewish Rabbi. Hindu leader Asha Chand urged the crowd to support harmony. "May god grant us peace. Om - may God bless America and all those gathered here today for this worthy cause. May peace and non-violence reign supreme. Om. Peace. Peace. Peace," he said.

The audience sang along to the simple words of the early American spiritual, "We Shall Overcome."

Lisa Toomey, from Washington state, carried a sign that compared guns in hands of young Americans to weapons of mass destruction. "I'm 44 and I have two-year old twins and a four year old. And I'm tired of the violence. We need to be here for our children," she said.

Gun violence has special poignancy for young people. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that guns killed nearly 1,800 children and teenagers in 2000. Another CDC report says firearms are second only to motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for young people under 19 years old in the United States.

Meanwhile, just a few kilometers away, a group calling itself the Second Amendment Sisters held a counter-rally. The hotly-debated second amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms.

Second Amendment Sister member Lynn Niznik, from Virginia, acknowledged that the numbers of people attending the pro-gun rally were smaller than at the Million Mom March. "It's hard to say because you've got membership, which are numbers, but then you have support of those who don't necessarily want to be members. We get a lot of support from people who are not members and simply want to give us, to show their support," she said.

Maryland resident Jeff Brown said he believes guns are one way women can level the playing field with men. "Guns equalize the situation. Women are physically, in a lot of cases, not as strong as men - especially if that man is not following the rules of society," he said.

Miss New Mexico Teen, 16-year-old Sarah Roush, was at the rally wearing a full-length dark-blue satin gown and her tiara. She said guns are a big part of her life, and that she has used beauty pageants as a venue to champion gun-use. "The state level took it when I ran for Miss New Mexico. They took it very well because it was the state. When I went to the nationals, they frowned on it a little bit more because I wasn't talking about world peace," she said.

Ms. Roush says she comes from a small town in New Mexico, where guns are "a family thing." She says all of her relatives shoot guns - including her father, her mother, her older brother and her cousins.