As I drove to the meeting on gun control late Monday afternoon, I listened to the news reports of the three Pasadena boys killed by gunfire as they walked home from a Halloween party.
It wasn't a coincidence. You hear such stories when you drive anywhere, to ballgames, movies, graduations, markets, christenings and funerals. If you're feeling good, heading to a Sunday barbecue, there's sure to be news of a Saturday night drive-by to bring you down. Death and injury by gunfire have become part of our daily life.
They're part of the life of one of the women at the meeting, Glenda Barnard. Her son was left paralyzed from an accidental shooting by another teen-ager firing a family "self-protection" weapon. And of the lives of two women who couldn't make it to the meeting--Lorna Hawkins, with a son lost to a drive-by and another to a carjacking, and Carol Payne, mother of another drive-by victim.
All of them are members of the Women's Coalition Against Gun Violence, one of a growing number of grass-roots organizations pressing Congress and state legislatures to pass gun control laws.
The coalition has a new slant on gun control. It sees the issue as being particularly relevant to women, who they feel must protect their children and themselves from street and domestic violence.
About 30 women sat in a circle in the living room of the home of Ann Reiss Lane, a former member of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and an organizer of the coalition.
It was a big, old Hancock Park house in a prosperous neighborhood where the Lanes have lived a long time. "I went to the school across the street, and so did my husband and my kids and my grandkids," she told the group.
No one is more aware of the violent changes in L.A. than coalition member Judith Glass. "I have lived in Los Angeles for 30 years and now I am afraid," said Glass, who heads the American Jewish Congress' Feminist Center. "I resent that my city has been taken away from me and I am concerned that there is a disintegration of civic life in general."
"I don't have fear, I'm angry," said Sheila Goldberg of Venice.
"I have two children in the Los Angeles schools," said Rabbi Laura Geller, executive director of the American Jewish Congress here. "After Fairfax High (where a boy was shot to death earlier in the year) I said: 'There for the grace of God go my kids,' and I couldn't believe that every woman in the city wouldn't march after that."
Fear and anger, however, aren't enough to sustain a political movement that can beat a powerful gun lobby that has been able to resist all but the weakest control laws.
This particular women's group has more going for it than most. The Women's Coalition Against Gun Violence has a plan--and political smarts.
It began last April at a meeting on the Doheny Campus of Mt. St. Mary's College called by Betty Friedan, author of "The Feminine Mystique," the book that began the modern feminist movement. I didn't go to the meeting, but Lane gave me a report of it, prepared by Los Angeles writer Jill Stewart.
At the conference, Friedan was especially angry over a campaign by gun companies to sell guns to women for self-defense. She was rankled by the way the ads sought to capitalize on the power unleashed by Friedan's book. As Stewart put it: "Manufacturers are buying ads in respected magazines and big city newspapers that are designed to make women feel irresponsible, weak and behind the times without a gun."
Friedan said, "It is so pernicious to me that the whole issue of women's empowerment we have been working on for 20 years is being co-opted by these damn gun manufacturers."
As the late afternoon sun disappeared Monday, Geller said, "Enough of this victim talk."
The group agreed on a plan. First, more organizations will be recruited into the women's coalition. Then the women will hold rallies outside local gun manufacturers. Finally, perhaps on Mother's Day, the coalition will join a South-Central Los Angeles organization, Drive-By Agony, in a march for peace.
The women will work for passage of laws such as one proposed by Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) to outlaw the sale of handguns to youths.
The group's model is MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Remember the days when drunk-driving laws were a joke? Stiff penalties advocated by MADD stopped the laughter.
This is the beginning of the same kind of relentless grass-roots campaign. If it succeeds, guns may finally become hard to obtain for killers such as those who murdered the Pasadena boys, Stephen Coats Jr. and Reggie Crawford, both 14, and Edgar Evans, 13.