Moms Ring Bell

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The Million Mom March held in Washington, D.C., and 15 other cities on Mother's Day rang up impressive numbers - the aggregate total of participants actually approached a million - and the organization plans to keep right on marching for comprehensive gun control. The Million Mom's secret weapon against the trauma of gunfire: San Francisco's Trauma Foundation and its nationwide activist spin off, the Bell Campaign, both headed by Andrew McGuire.

Thanks to a 1997 grant of $4.5 million from the Goldman Foundation in San Francisco and a core of dedicated gun control activists, the Bell Campaign has expanded to provide the kind of chapter-based operations that are needed to answer volley-for-volley the perennial claims of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The group has regional offices in New York, Chicago, Stone Mountain, Ga., and Orange County, Calif.

Now the Bell Campaign, "dedicated to providing victims of gun trauma with ongoing compassionate support, information, education and advocacy," is going through major organizational changes. In the past year a nonprofit separate from the Trauma Foundation was formed. Now it will change its name to the Million Mom March; the Bell Campaign will be no more. First Marchers Donna Dees-Thomases will join the existing board, which will be chaired by Mary Leigh Belk of Laguna Hills, Calif., a registered Republican who lost her son in a 1994 shooting in New York.

The retooled operation will also open a D.C. office and may be housed with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, directed by Mike Beard. Beard's scrappy shop courted the Million Moms while the more laborious and conservative Handgun Control Inc., led by Sarah Brady, was standoffish when the Moms came a-courting.

Now a Packard Foundation $1-million grant (over three-years) for youth violence prevention will provide the first major infusion of money directly into the Bell Campaign/Million Mom March. With a $100,000 Packard Foundation planning grant last year to the Trauma Foundation, the Bell Campaign mapped out a California-wide youth involvement strategy to continue gun control activities that in recent years have yielded major political and legislative victories in the state at the expense of gun manufacturers and the NRA.

The campaign will have young people involved at every level, from board membership, to staff (Pamela Phuong Pham is the project director for youth organizing), to planning activities and shaping the Bell Campaign's (make that the Million Mom March) message to adolescents and adults. Pham declines to comment on the details, citing her 15-member youth advisory board's unhappiness with Youth Today for carrying NRA Eddie the Eagle ads. "We're boycotting Youth Today," says Pham. "If you report on us we'll refer it to our lawyers." Next year Pham is off to law school, where she might become acquainted with the First Amendment's protections for unpopular speech, even for the NRA and its skewed reading of the Second Amendment.

The million dollars for the Million Mom's Packard grant, says a more talkative Associate Program Officer Dr. Patti Culross, is for "preventing youth gun violence " through an unabashedly pro-gun control, licensing and regulation approach. That will be at the core of Packard's approach, says Culross, a former academic fellow for the California Wellness Foundation - which over the past seven years has written the philanthropic book on tough anti-gun violence activism, while scorning wimpy gun aversion programs. To that end, the foundation will spend at least $2 million in 2000. Contact: Million Mom March (415) 821-8209; Packard (650) 255-5575.