CHANTILLY, Va. -- Melinda Gierisch is under siege. First, CBS needs footage of her at target practice. A conservative Internet site wants to chat about a new pro-gun group. So do two separate French television crews. As she races to meet a deadline at work, her phone won't stop ringing with reporters hoping to talk about why she packs a pistol.
All this media, all these deadlines, all this attention. It's stressing her out. She heads for the firing range. "I've got to blow off some steam," she says, before squeezing off a few rounds.
It's been a hectic few weeks for Gierisch, the Virginia organizer for the Second Amendment Sisters, a gun-rights group created to protest tomorrow's Million Mom March. Gierisch and many of the sisters say they are so devoted to their cause they're using their own money to promote tomorrow's counter-rally on the Washington Mall. The effort has no backing from the National Rifle Association and is expected to attract several thousand participants, they say.
The Second Amendment Sisters took one look at the Million Moms, which has support from the gun-control lobby, and decided they would not let that group speak for all women. While the mothers talk about those lost to gun violence, the sisters describe all the lives they believe were saved when a woman used a gun in self-defense.
The Web site for the group (www.sas-aim.org) features a picture of a young woman with a gun aimed at a would-be rapist over the caption, "So, you want to see me naked?" A Web movie advertises the rally with pictures of founding fathers interspliced with wife batterers, ominous music and the message: "Your heritage, your rights, your safety."
Women post testimonials on the site in praise of guns. One mother recalls being stalked by two young men while picking up her children from a baby sitter late one night. They followed her home. "I pulled the gun from the edge of my skirt, pointed it at them and said, `LEAVE!' " she wrote. "The rubber [tire marks] they left stayed on my driveway for months."
The Second Amendment Sisters will showcase women -- women who pull guns out of their pressed skirts, not their pick-ups. Women who are college-educated professionals, not full-time messengers of the Washington gun lobby.
Still, a far broader band of demonstrators is preparing to turn out for the rally tomorrow. Not all are mothers, not all are even sisters. Donna Dees-Thomases, founder of the Million Mom March, was recently involved in a television debate with two Second Amendment Sisters -- one was a man.
Most of the group's members have one thing in common, however -- opposition to even incremental increases in restrictions on gun ownership. While the Million Moms are arguing for licensing of all gun owners and registration of all firearms, the sisters warn that such limits would cause their rights to wither away. They argue that 22,000 gun laws are on the books already, and that's enough.
"I truly believe," says Virginia activist Patricia Phelps, "these mothers are going for confiscation completely."
Gierisch, who works for a Northern Virginia defense contractor, is typical of the new gun spokesmodel -- and not the kind in the Stacked and Packed calendar, either. This is a serious public relations effort in the gun debate, a battle for the image of gun owners as much as for their rights.
Single and sober-minded, Gierisch is cool and polished around reporters. Recently, courtesy of the Gun Owners of America, Gierisch went into media training, practicing on a fake TV set with call-in questions from pretend viewers. With her conservative attire, she looks like she's got a Palm Pilot zipped in that handbag -- not a semiautomatic pistol.
"We don't want to project that fanatic militia type that gun owners normally are portrayed as," says Gierisch, 30, chatting by the glass gun cases at the Blue Ridge Arsenal firing range in Chantilly where she comes on Friday nights to relax. "If you look at any gun rally, the cameras always go to the one guy wearing camo. It's really disgusting. "
The Sisters argue not just for their right to shoot their weapons, but their right to enjoy the act. Over the din of gunfire at the arsenal, Gierisch describes the experience as "meditative."
"You know that feeling when someone just starts giving you a back massage?" she asks later, next to her boyfriend in the shooting range. "That's how you start to feel. You just melt."
That sensation is one reason for the big divide in the gun debate. The thrill of firing is mystifying to anti-gun activists -- not a good enough argument for gun rights, not a good enough argument even for a hobby.
"They talk about it like it's some kind of passion," says Tina Jackson, a Washington Million Mom organizer whose son was shot to death two years ago. "I am like, girlfriend, get a man if you want that kind of passion."