Monday, May 15, 2000

'Sisters' march for Second Amendment

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Maria Heil never thought much about guns until her future husband, Dale, took her deer hunting a few weeks before their wedding.

        It was cold and miserable — she spent most of the time in the truck — but she remembers the rush when Dale shot a buck.

        Sold, she took a hunter's safety course and joined the boys for adventure in the woods more often. Dale soon surprised her with a rifle of her own.

        “I'll tell you, you have to be pretty secure in your marriage when your husband gives you a gun for Christmas,” said Ms. Heil, a mother of four from New Freedom, Pa.

        On Sunday, as thousands of women rallied for gun control, Ms. Heil provided a different take: Women — compassionate, like her — concerned about children, like her — should embrace guns for both sport and


        “I think they want kids to be safe but they're really misinformed,” Ms. Heil said of the gun control demonstrators. “We don't have a gun violence problem in this nation, we have a human violence problem.”

        Proud but severely outnumbered, Ms. Heil and a loosely organized group of gun enthusiasts — the Second Amendment Sisters — held a counter-demonstration to celebrate the lives saved each year by guns. The crowd, which organizers estimated at 3,000, was fused by streaks of humor, patriotism and indignation.

        Gun control, like abortion, is an issue with very little middle ground. What one person sees as a common-sense safety measure another interprets as a slash at the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Some days, the balance depends on who shouts the loudest.

Focus on criminals
        Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, a state representative in Texas whose parents were slain in a killing spree at a cafeteria, said she is angrier at politicians who want to limit gun rights than at the deranged gunman. She said she might have saved her parents had she not left her gun in the car out of worry about the law.

        “I've been there. I've lived it, and I refuse to ever be an easy victim again,” Ms. Gratia-Hupp said. “Why aren't we concentrating on the bad guys and let decent, law-abiding citizens protect themselves?”

        Beyond the official message, though, was the chance to break the stereotype of pro-gun women as a bunch of freakish Annie Oakleys. Organizers, careful about presenting the best image, issued a marcher's guide to protest etiquette: sunscreen, yes; comfortable shoes, yes; semiautomatic weapons, no. “And please,” the guide implored, “no empty holsters.”

        Some waved signs — “Guns: The Ultimate Feminine Protection,” “Gun control: Use Both Hands” — or derided the other protesters as the “misguided mommies.” One family pulled a little red wagon with a placard: “Wait, Mr. Bad Guy, My Mommy Has to Unlock Her Gun.”

        The crowd booed when a motorcade sped by — they thought it was President Clinton — and there was a small insurrection when organizers at one point called off the planned march to the Capitol because of time constraints. “I didn't ride the bus all night to sit around,” said Kate Smith, a township trustee from Mount Vernon, Ohio. “I came to march.”

        Ms. Smith said she made the trip in honor of her sister, Rebecca, who was slain. “If she had a gun and knew how to use it,” Ms. Smith said, “she wouldn't be dead.”

        As they stomped down Constitution Avenue, some sang the “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” while others exchanged taunts with stragglers from the other demonstration.

Good intentions
        Catie Berry, a machine designer and mother of four from Amelia, said many people horrified by gun violence demand tougher gun control to soothe their fears. Ms. Berry thinks new restrictions such as gun licensing and registration ultimately would make it easier for the federal government to confiscate weapons in a time of perceived crisis.

        “They have good intentions but they aren't thinking the issue all the way through,” she said. “We have a moral problem, not a gun problem.”

        Ms. Heil and her husband, a chiropractor, preach gun safety and responsibility to their four children. The oldest, Sam, 12, and Laura, 10, now enjoy clay shooting with their mother at a local range.

        “There was no debate,” she said of exposing her children to guns at an early age. “It's a sport where there is a level field. You don't have to be the biggest or the fastest to be the best. It's a lot better than sitting in front of the TV playing video games. This takes skill.”

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