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'An American problem': Mothers have a role in gun debate, activist argues at Wednesday event

Kaaren Haldeman, North Carolina's first statewide chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, stopped by Duke Wednesday to discuss the debate surrounding guns in America.

In an event sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center, Haldeman emphasized the fact that all citizens—regardless of class, color or creed—have a stake in the firearm debate. She also touched on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., which spurred her to become more active in the gun control debate.

“This is an American problem, and it requires American solutions,” she said.

Haldeman, who earned her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in cultural anthropology, didn’t consider herself a gun control advocate—or frankly even a political person—until the Sandy Hook massacre. 

With three elementary school-aged sons, Haldeman said she felt the reverberations of the news especially vividly.

“I was in a state of grief,” Haldeman said. 

This tragedy spurred her into action. Upset and motivated, Haldeman explained that she contacted both Donna-Dees Thomases, who organized the Million Mom March against gun violence in 2000, and Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action. Subsequently, Haldeman realized that the responsibility of ensuring a safer future fell on her shoulders, not only as a mother but as a patriotic American. 

Her team has used social media especially efficiently to spread its message, she added, but her social media presence had humble origins.

“Back then, I had probably only 10 followers, and my Twitter icon was the egg,” she joked.  

With the assistance of tech-savvy mothers, Haldeman was able to create a modern website that could accommodate citizens’ interests. She said she prided herself on the website’s comprehensive, interactive map that shows which candidates agree with increased safety measures. 

Haldeman also recognized the prevalence of children and adolescents on social media and thus constructed activities specifically targeted at them. By establishing a strong initial commitment to safety in primary school, Haldeman explained she believes that students will continue these conversations into adulthood. 

She added that her team occasionally encounters detractors and that the site’s managers must continuously scrub posts of demeaning comments. Haldeman has also installed additional safeguards to protect her family from doxxing—the act of posting personally identifying information online. Despite these obstacles, her efforts have helped lead to nearly 750,000 people liking the national branch of Moms Demand Action on Facebook. 

As a former educator, Haldeman admitted that Moms Demand Action could seem exclusive, but she said that could not be further from the truth. First, Haldeman actively seeks out alternative viewpoints from within those in agreement about the gun sense, she added. 

Haldeman explained that the experiences of one mother who lost a son in Los Angeles to gang violence and another whose toddler pulled the trigger on what seemed like a toy may seem very different, but both can contribute to the debate. 

Haldeman said she includes conservative voices as much as possible, especially those who belong to the National Rifle Association. For those whose beliefs aren't easily swayed, Haldeman has developed a number of counterarguments, she noted. 

More often, after locating common ground, Haldeman said she finds that many self-described conservatives are more than willing to support universal background checks and the prohibition of firearm sales to felons, two major pillars of Moms Demand Action’s goals. 

“I can tell you from my own experience that the conversation has shifted dramatically in the past six years, thanks to moms,” she said. 

To continue this momentum, Haldeman urged everyone to both vote and “bring friends to the polls.” She maintained strongly that Congress "won’t clean itself” and that the people must hold elected officials accountable. 

“We, as mothers, have the absolute right to protect our children from harm,” she said.  

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