CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A week after the Million Mom March for gun control, the National Rifle Association showcased its own mothers, who said Sunday they are just as concerned about their children's safety as the protesters in Washington.
''I choose to own a gun because I am a good mother,'' said Maria Heil, an NRA member for eight years and Pennsylvania coordinator of the Second Amendment Sisters.
''If you care about your children, you should make sure you have the ability to defend them. They are demonizing us because we chose guns as a method of defense.''
Heil, a mother of three daughters who was among the counterprotesters at the Million Mom March, spoke at a seminar held by the NRA's Women on Target, which helps women join and organize shooting and hunting clubs. The seminar was followed by a reception for NRA women.
The NRA is concerned about the growing divide between men and women over gun control. A Gallup poll this month showed three-fourths of the women surveyed said they support stricter gun controls, compared with about half the men.
Sunday's events demonstrated the NRA's emphasis on its female members at its 129th convention, which concluded most of its business Sunday; Charlton Heston is expected to be re-elected Monday to a third one-year term as president.
Eleven of the NRA's 76 directors are women, as is the second vice president, Sandy Froman. The group doesn't keep figures on how many of the 3.6 million members are women, spokeswoman Trish Hilton said, but she said female membership is growing quickly.
The female speakers at the convention said good parenting, gun-safety education and self-defense are valid alternatives to more gun-control laws.
''I am not at all impressed with polls that say women want gun control,'' said Marion Hammer, who was NRA president in 1996 and 1997. ''I'll tell you what women want more than gun control. They want to be safe in their homes.''
Barbara Phillips, a member of the NRA's executive board, called the tens of thousands of Million Mom marchers ''misinformed and confused.''
''I'm sorry to see such a huge group of women so misled and manipulated,'' Phillips said. ''Moms should do everything possible to allow their kids to face a future in the real world. Moms need to educate their children about firearms and the difference between a real gun and a toy gun.''
Shera Henderson, who toured the NRA exhibition hall with her 13-year-old son, Tyson, said banning guns isn't the answer. A co-worker of hers participated in the Million Mom March because a son's friend was accidentally shot.
''I think what they are doing is a good cause, but they are going at it in the wrong direction,'' said Henderson, whose husband, Harold, is an NRA member. ''They are trying to keep kids from getting their hands on guns. But kids are going to get their hands on guns if they want to.''