Gun control advocates mark Sandy Hook anniversary

jneff@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

— One year after a young man gunned down 26 people in a Connecticut school, the families of murder victims and anti-gun violence activists gathered in a Durham church to take stock of the past year.

They admitted they are swimming upstream in North Carolina.

“The General Assembly passed every outrageous gun bill proposed,” said Ellie Kinnaird, a former state senator from Chapel Hill. “They even allowed guns where alcohol is served.”

A crowd of 150, more women than men, gathered on a gray, drizzly and cold Saturday morning at the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Durham.

Councilman Steve Schewel bemoaned the fact that Congress would not tighten background checks after the Sandy Hook slayings. He said the Durham City Council would unanimously pass gun laws but has been thwarted by recent legislation prohibiting local governments from enacting ordinances stricter than state laws.

Schewel said the council would, if allowed, pass ordinances to limit the sale of ammunition and keep guns out of parks, bars and restaurants.

The event was organized by a national organization formed after the Connecticut killings, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the group held memorial services in North Carolina and 34 other states Saturday.

Kaaren Haldeman said she was jolted awake by the massacre of 20 grade-schoolers and six staff members at Sandy Hook. The mother of three young children, Haldeman has become active in Moms Demand Action.

Haldeman said America has become numb to an epidemic of gun violence.

“We need to end the epidemic of violence in our country,” she said. “Every day 33 people are killed by gun violence.”

Just before the event started, Haldeman was chatting in the church vestibule when her eyes narrowed. She dashed in front of a dark haired, clean-cut man.

“Sean, you are not welcome here,” she said. “Please leave the premises.”

The man, Sean Sorrentino, left quietly. A gun-rights activist, Sorrentino recently posted on his blog a picture of Mothers Demand Action members gathered in front of a church.

The caption: “Congratulations, you’ve had a child. How does having sex without birth control qualify you to infringe on our rights?”

One parent of a murder victim said she tried to steer clear of politics.

Freida MacDonald came wearing white and green, the school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary. Her son, Stephen Curtis Hoyle, was living in an extended-stay hotel while working a construction job in Wake Forest. The 24-year-old had $2,100 in cash and planned to buy a truck on the day he died. A co-worker set him up for a robbery as he woke up to go to work on Jan. 26, 2012.

A supporter of the Second Amendment, MacDonald says she understands why her single women friends seek out firearms training for concealed carry permits. She has focused on finding hope and healing for hurting people.

“We all belong to a group that nobody wants to join,” she said.

She’s had to deal with realities she never contemplated.

Losing a spouse is losing the present. Losing a parent is losing the past.

“When your child is killed, you lose the future,” she said. “You never get your grandchildren.”

Carrie Watkins, 49, said her solution is simple: “No guns.”

She has found herself staying more and more to herself since her daughter was killed. She’s been depressed and has had nervous breakdowns since the night of July 18, 2008, when Carrie Denise Watkins, 23, was shot on an East Durham street.

Watkins said she relives those moments every day: arriving at Duke Hospital too late; making the official identification for the medical examiner; climbing in the hospital bed for a few minutes to hold her namesake.

Police never made an arrest in the case.

“That’s the hurting part,” Watkins said. “No answers, no relief.”

Neff: 919-829-4516

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