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One mother's attempt to stop gun violence 

Kaaren Haldeman

Photo by Justin Cook

Kaaren Haldeman

On Dec. 14, 2012, Kaaren Haldeman watched the grim news pour in. More than two-dozen dead, most of them children, in Newtown, Conn. A lone shooter had taken his own life as police converged. The mother of a first grader, Haldeman cried on her kitchen floor.

"I knew intimately what these parents had lost," she says. "It's an awful thing." A middling response from a gridlocked Congress diminished the possibility of real change. Comprehensive gun control, despite the initial furor after Newtown, seems far off.

But Haldeman, a liberal-leaning public health worker from Durham, had found her cause. Years earlier, a robber pointed a gun in her face. Her husband had been held up at gunpoint at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995. But it was the shooting in Newtown—and all the shootings since—that drove her to enlist with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

The group, the brainchild of an indignant Indiana woman following the Newtown shootings, has become one of the leading groups advocating for gun reform. In the past year, its membership has swelled to almost 130,000 people. Haldeman became director of the North Carolina chapter.

There have been 30 school shootings in the United States since Newtown, and Haldeman remembers them all. "With every one of these shootings, we're re-energized," she says. "We're going to make this stop."

She's fond of citing statistics, and with good reason. The statistics are sobering. A recent World Health Organization study found that Americans have 88 guns per 100 people; there are about 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, a rate far higher than the other 27 developed nations included in the study.

At a Chapel Hill Town Council meeting this month, she told town leaders that a child is shot in this country every 30 minutes. "Guns may save lives," she said. "But they take lives too, at a rate far greater than they save lives."

Among its most notable achievements, Moms Demand Action enlisted business owners to post placards banning guns within their establishments. Of the 100 or so businesses she's visited in Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Haldeman says roughly 95 percent agreed to post signage banning weapons.

"I remind business owners: You're not prohibiting a human," she says. "You're prohibiting a weapon."

Among its most notable defeats, the group watched as the GOP-led N.C. General Assembly stymied local ordinances that ban conceal-carry gun holders from city and county parks and playgrounds.

Haldeman says the group wants to change the discussion in North Carolina and the United States. A change in discussion may prompt a change in legislation. "We've had 30 years of an unchecked gun lobby creating the narrative in this country," she says.

In addition to public outreach efforts, the group regularly petitions state and federal lawmakers. Haldeman says the group mailed a thank you note to Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan for her vote to back gun reform in Congress. For Republican Sen. Richard Burr, a gun reform opponent, Moms Demand Action mailed dozens of ties, each proclaiming, "Get some gun sense."

Meanwhile, the group continues to grow in membership and influence. The group now has 10 full-time staff members in North Carolina, with volunteers statewide, making the case with local businesses and state and local government for more stringent gun laws.

"It's kind of sad," Haldeman says. "An increase in membership means another shooting. It means people are becoming more and more aware of gun violence in this country."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Kaaren Haldeman's Dream."

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