'Die-In' Counts the Minutes

In Bethesda, 32 women -- one for each victim slain last month at Virginia Tech -- hold a "lie-in" lasting the short amount of time it took the gunman to buy his weapons. Another lie-in was held last month in Alexandria. (Photos By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Michelle Betton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 14, 2007

The 32 women dressed in black gathered on a busy street corner in Bethesda yesterday. Orange and maroon ribbons hung around their necks.

At noon, they began lying down one by one on the sidewalk. Supporters handed out fliers explaining their message: a protest against the U.S. gun laws that allowed Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho to obtain the weapons he used in the fatal shooting rampage on campus last month. Each of the protesters represented one of his victims.

"We were so outraged by this tragic incident with guns," said Loretta Sevier, Web coordinator at the Potomac School in McLean and an organizer of the event. "We thought we had to do something."

The idea came from Abigail Spangler, 42, a mother of two and a cellist with the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic. Two days after the April 16 shootings, Spangler decided to organize a women's "lie-in/die-in" that would last only a few minutes, "representing the amount of time it took for the shooter to buy his gun in the United States." That protest was held April 22 in front of Alexandria City Hall.

Jill Lucas, 56, an administrative staff member at the Potomac School, contacted Spangler after reading about her role in the Alexandria demonstration, which led to yesterday's event in Bethesda.

The intent is to heighten the debate over gun control, Lucas said.

"Our message resonates because it's simple," she said. "We should be able to do something to make it a little harder to get a gun in the United States."

The women at Bethesda and Woodmont avenues ranged from Virginia Tech students to grandmothers.

Tina Gehring and her daughter Geneva, a rising senior at Virginia Tech, participated together. "We'd like it to be as difficult to get a gun as to get a driver's license," Tina Gehring said. "I had no idea that you could walk into any private Virginia gun show and buy a gun" without a background check.

Spangler called the lie-ins a "protest in a box," an approach that "allows anyone across America, even a diaper-changing mom like myself, to get online, download letters and hold a protest themselves," she said. "The Alexandria 32 pass the baton to the Bethesda 32. We hope to inspire others to hold this protest as well."

By the end of the event, two participants were talking about holding similar demonstrations in Falls Church and Chestnut Hill, Pa. Ladd Everitt, president of the D.C. chapter of Million Mom March, and Martina Leinz, Virginia state president of Million Mom March, told Spangler that their organization also could help spread the message about holding lie-ins.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company