Once upon a time in America, drunkenness was cute. We smiled at the loveable town drunk. In Mayberry, USA – the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show – Otis Campbell, the town drunk, would stumble into the jail, voluntarily enter a jail cell, and sleep off his inebriation. There was the period of the Rat Pack cool boozers where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others had a Las Vegas good time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. And then, there was George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman who gave the impression that he had smoked just a little too much marijuana.
All the while in the real world, mothers were losing their children to automobile accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started to change the culture. When Cindy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver in May of 1980, she decided to channel her grief into activism, and she turned Cari’s bedroom into an office.
Others joined her and the organization is now one of the most successful charities and social change organizations in the country. The history of MADD shows the kind of persistence it takes not only to change laws but to change a culture. Through the years MADD has worked for stronger laws against drunk driving, to raise the legal drinking age to 21, and for a federal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard. It faced strong opposition from the liquor and hospitality lobbies. The organization was accused of wanting a return to Prohibition. Yet, while MADD continued to work on the legislative front, it also became a support network for families who had lost loved ones to drunk driving. Now, its mission has expanded to stop underage drinking. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” (http://www.madd.org/)
MADD achieves these goals through the use of scientific evidence, the testimonies of people who have suffered tragic loss, remembering the lives and personalities of those who have been injured or killed by drivers who are drunk or high. Because of MADD’s work, we no longer think that drunk is cute, cool, or funny. Advertisements of alcoholic beverages urge people to drink responsibly. We see people taking away a person’s car keys on television dramas so they do not drive drunk. The designated driver is the cool and responsible member of the group. The culture has shifted.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America now hopes to do the same thing on the issue of gun violence.
Once upon a time in America, legends such as Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp– who were working to civilize the wild west–turned their towns into gun-free zones. In the movie and television depictions of this era, when the bad guy did not want to give up his gun, Earp or Dillon would run them out of town. There was no National Rifle Association, no right-wing radio and television talk show hosts spewing bile and nonsense about a non-existent Second Amendment right to keep and to carry military-style weapons with little or no restrictions. There were no spineless local, state, and federal lawmakers whose primary concern was the next election. There were no congressmembers who were completely owned by the gun lobby. There were no gun owners who made their gun a god and made a certain interpretation of the Second Amendment holy writ. It was the sheriff telling the gun-toting bad-guys that: “I want you out of town by sun down.” Or something to that effect. “Leave your guns with the sheriff or leave town.”
In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is saying to the NRA and to the gun lobby: “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” Or something to this effect. Moms Demand Action sponsored several events the week before Mother’s Day to draw attention to the issue. In several cities around the country, Moms read from a Mother’s Bill of Rights. The preamble reads:
“We, as mothers, have the absolute right to protect our children from harm. We have the right to know our children are safe from gun violence, from the moment they leave our arms in the morning until they return home later in the day. But the rights of American mothers are under attack by criminals, the gun lobby, and legislators who are unable to stand up for common-sense gun reforms. The right of mothers to protect our children SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” (http://momsdemandaction.org/mothers-day/mothers-bill-of-rights/)
The Mother’s Bill of Rights, among other things, is against the private ownership of military style weapons, wants all public spaces to be “gun-free zones”, demands strong gun regulations, intends to hold elected officials accountable for keeping children safe from gun violence. Toward these ends, Moms Demand Action is working with other groups such as The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Million Mom March, Women’s Donor Network, MomsRising, and the Children’s Defense Fund.
The lesson that the history of MADD teaches is that it may take years to achieve the legislative goals that Moms Demand Action wants. It may take years to change the culture. But the good news is that a change for the better can and will come.