WASHINGTON, D.C. In a heartfelt and sometimes angry speech directed at lawmakers and gun advocates nationwide, Hole leader Courtney Love rallied a crowd of several hundred thousand moms Sunday by pointing to her and Kurt Cobain's daughter as an example of how guns destroy families.
"If you think guns are good for protection, ask my daughter Frances, who will never see her daddy," said Love, speaking at the Million Mom March in uncharacteristically subdued tones about her husband's suicide.
Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, shot himself on April 5, 1994. He was 27.
Love delivered one of many emotional, often angry, messages during a day in which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Washington and cities across the United States on Mother's Day to call for stricter gun-control laws.
Love was among a handful of well-known singers, including Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, who spoke and performed from a stage set up at the downtown Mall.
'The Birth Of A Movement'
Harris, who sang a tune written for the event by Cash, said that Cash urged her to attend the rally. "She called me at home and said, 'We really need to be there.' "
Etheridge pointed to the crowd. "You are an inspiration to us all," she said. "This is not a onetime thing. We are witnessing the birth of a movement."
The longest talk from the cadre of singers was from Love. In a soft, eerie narrative, she explained the ease with which a man walked into a pawnshop and bought the gun that a day later Cobain used to kill himself.
"Guns are so easily available for people suffering from depression. Out of the 32,000 killed by handguns each year, over half of those are suicides. There is help out there. Please ask for it. I wish Kurt did," Love said.
The marchers are demanding new legislation on registering and licensing gun owners, mandatory safety gun locks, a one-gun-a-month purchasing limit for individuals and extensive background checks on buyers.
Television host Rosie O'Donnell, master of ceremonies for the day-long program of speeches and song, said organizers estimated the Million Mom March drew 750,000, which would make it the largest public rally ever in Washington. The record was set in 1969 when 600,000 protested America's involvement in the Vietnam War.
Neither police nor parks officials would provide a crowd estimate, but other observers pegged it at about 200,000. Even at that lesser figure, no other rally aimed at women has matched this one in size, organizers said.
"I haven't been involved in a political protest since the war, but no way would I miss this," said 64-year-old Cookie Holland, whose nephew died from a gunshot last year. "If these bastards who wrap themselves around an outdated notion of the Second Amendment had to bury a 14-year-old boy, they may change their tune."
Marchers Face Opposition
Several hundred people held a counter rally, sponsored by the Sisters of the Second Amendment, opposing new regulations on gun owners and arguing that guns protect people from criminals.
The group, who proudly call themselves "pistol-packin' mamas," wants tougher enforcement of gun laws, tougher penalties for criminals and more support for gun-safety programs. They also want no tampering with the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
Million Mom marchers booed and hissed at the opposing marchers.
Members of the gun-rights group yelled, "Second Amendment, civil rights. You give up your guns, we'll give up ours."
An ABC News/Washington Post opinion poll published Sunday revealed that nearly one in four Americans have personally been threatened by someone wielding a gun.
"One of the things your mothers teach you growing up is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," President Bill Clinton told a crowd of activists gathered at the White House as the march got under way.
He rejected arguments against tougher gun controls, which he said amounted to saying, "An ounce of prevention is totally unacceptable, and we'll throw a hundred pounds of cure at it and hope it works out."
"We are persistent, tough, and we vote," said Alice Post, a 55-year-old mother of three from Short Hills, N.J. "My daughter is here, and so is my son. This cause is really multigendered, but like so many women who were behind the civil-rights movement, women will be behind this, the civil-rights movement of this era."