Mother’s Day—the day of the year that women are served breakfast in bed by giggling children. Or wear large corsages to a restaurant where they look proudly around a table at their offspring. But there’s another commemoration of Mother’s Day, the one in which women visit their dead children at a cemetery because of the nation’s lax gun laws.
The term “toddler shot” brings up more than 80 million results on Google. Links go to subjects such as toddler thought gun was a toy or loaded gun was in the car’s glove compartment or toddler’s brother found loaded gun in a nightstand. Many of these links might go to vaccinations, but “toddler shoots toddler” brings up 2.5 million hits.
Not all the mothers visiting the cemetery are there because of toddlers killed by guns. People killed because of a parking dispute or mistaken for a groundhog or angering the driver of a car also have mothers. On this Mother’s Day, at least 6,212 people have been shot and wounded in the United States since January 1, 2014, and another 3,665 people have been shot and killed. Eleven mothers made funeral plans for their dead children last week, and 38 mothers feared for their injured children.
Last Wednesday, a mother, Sonja Woods, gathered with other victims of gun violence because her daughter was fatally shot by a man who bought his gun at a hardware store. He couldn’t pass background checks because of mental problems so he got one at a place that didn’t require one.
The statistics above don’t reflect an Oregon mother who is now planning the funeral for her 34-year-old husband, Jesse, and four-year-old daughter, Maribella. When Stephanie Williard came home from her job as an acupuncturist last Thursday, she found that Jesse had shot and killed Maribella and then shot himself in the head. A neighbor said of Jesse, “He was always polite, respectful, playing outside with the kids.” It’s another victory for the NRA and the gun industry: Jesse Willard was able to own a gun.
Five times as many children and teens were killed by guns in 2010 as the number of soldiers killed that year in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Medical and mental health costs from just one year’s gun incidents in the U.S. cost the country $8.4 billion dollars. The Children’s Defense Fund’s 2013 report shows that states with a common sense approach to protecting children from guns successfully lowered child gun fatalities.
Every person who loves their guns more than they love their children, who refuses to tell their lawmakers that they support sensible gun laws to stop these tragedies, is to blame for mothers’ forced to go to the cemetery on Mother’s Day instead of having breakfast in bed or proudly sitting with her children in a restaurant.
Another tragedy of Mother’s Day is the loss of its original meaning—supporting peace. During the 1850s Ann Reeves Jarvis started work clubs in West Virginia to improve sanitary conditions, fight disease, and curb milk contamination as ways to lower infant mortality. During the Civil War, the groups also tended both Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, Jarvis organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and pacifist events. Julia Ward Howe, composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 which asked women to take an active political role in promoting peace.
Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued her mother’s work and then fought the holiday’s commercialization, dying penniless in a sanitarium because of her efforts. After the death of Ann Jarvis in 1905, her daughter organized the first Mother’s Day observances in 1907. Families gathered in Grafton (WV), and the events expanded to other locations. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson set aside the second Sunday in May for the annual holiday.
Intimate gatherings gave way to massive commercial sales of flowers, candy, and greeting cards, far from the reverent atmosphere of its earlier days. Anna Jarvis threatened lawsuits, organized boycotts, and even accused First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt of using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.
The National Retail Federation expects spending of about $170 per person for a total of almost $20 billion just this year. The day is the most popular holiday for dining out, and Hallmark reports that Mother’s Day is the third most popular day for cards, behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It’s the second most popular day of the year for gift-giving
People who want to support mothers can stop spending their money and support the increase in the federal minimum wage. Of the 22 million moms are working in the United States today, over one-fifth of all working moms—4.7 million moms and their families–would get a raise by increasing the minimum wage to $10.10.
Mothers not in the cemetery on this day may be in prison. The population of women in prison grew 832 percent in the three decades between 1977 and 2007, double in the increase of male prisoners. Seventy percent of the women are mothers; the majority of them were primary caretakers between prison separated them from their children. Over one million children have mothers who are in jail, in prison, or on probation. One of these women, released under house arrest just for today, is Marissa Alexander who has teenage twins and a three-year-old daughter.
Nine days after Alexander gave premature birth to her daughter, she confronted her abusive estranged husband who was threatening to kill her. She fired two warning shots and was sentenced to 20 years in a Florida prison. After the conviction was overturned, Angela Corey, the same state attorney general who failed to get a conviction for George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, is seeing a 60-year sentence for Alexander. Meanwhile, the husband has custody over Alexander’s daughter.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Wilson’s proclamation of Mother’s Day. This anniversary should be a wakeup call to support justice and oppose killing.