Tens of thousands of American mothers converged on Washington yesterday to demand stricter gun laws in one of the biggest rallies the capital has seen in years.
Perfect weather saw organisers claiming 500,000 marchers as the protest got under way, matched by action in 62 cities nationwide in the so-called 'Million Moms March'.
'There is no way the Congress and the gun lobby can ignore us now,' said Raylene Harrison of Virginia. She said she was tired of sending her children to school each day in fear. 'We have all suffered in silence for too long . . . we want normal, peaceful lives, we are tired of living under seige.' Among the marchers were three mothers of victims of the 1996 massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, where a gunman killed 17 kindergarten children and their teacher - an event that led to the outright banning of handguns across Britain. 'Guns aren't part of our culture, they are here,' said Karen Scott, one of three. 'We're here to support the mothers of America.' The marches come amid signs of increasing political momentum for change. Figures show that about 12 children and teenagers are shot dead every day, some of the more than 30,000 Americans who die each year. The figures are by far the highest in the developed world, reflecting an extensive gun culture that includes the right to bear arms enshrined the constitution.
President Bill Clinton eagerly welcomed the marchers, using the event to help his drive to push stalled laws on gun safety-locks and registration and owner licensing through Congress. Mr Clinton lashed out at opponents, saying they used 'power, money and fear'.
Insisting the mothers would prevail, he told them 'you will have proved that the American Constitution works because decent people can stand against mountains of power and move those mountains for the betterment of their children'.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made a rare return from New York where she is campaigning for a seat in the Senate, claiming the march was a highly appropriate Mother's Day message: 'We don't want flowers or jewellery. We don't want a nice card or a fancy meal as much as we want our Congress to do the right thing to protect our children.' The gun lobby - one of the most powerful in the country - battled to fend off criticism, aware that the march could force the issue firmly on to the election agenda. National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre went on talk shows to describe his body as the 'Red Cross of firearms safety'.
'What makes kids safe, and mums know this, is teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street,' he said, stressing the NRA's role in gun safety education. Several gun groups were staging rival protests but their voices were swamped.
Vice-President Al Gore is expected to expand his gun control platform as part of his race for the White House, while Republican rival George W. Bush faces a dilemma as the NRA is a core supporter.