Raleigh, N.C. — Gun control advocates used the MLK Memorial Gardens in Raleigh Wednesday as a backdrop to send a message to state and Congressional lawmakers.
"We're trying to vote for people who make a difference," said Kaaren Haldeman.
The rally was one of three held across the state. Organizers sought to remind their elected officials that they have not forgotten the massacres last year at a Connecticut elementary school and a Colorado movie theater and the subsequent inaction by Congress in changing gun laws.
Haldeman is a member of Moms Demand Action, and she's been fighting for gun safety for almost 20 years, since she and her husband were students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Haldeman was a lab assistant when Wendell Williamson, a former UNC law student, went on a shooting rampage in 1995.
"We were both on our way down to grab coffee and never made it out the door because we heard there was a shooting," she said. "Everybody went back in the building. We stayed in the building."
Williamson killed two people. He was later found innocent by reason of insanity and is now in a mental hospital.
Haldeman, now a mother of three, believes if enough gun safety advocates get together, they can fight the gun lobby and elect lawmakers who support expanded background checks and other gun safety measures.
Williamson's case and his illness has resonance as well for Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, who supports responsible gun ownership but says the means to reduce gun violence is a focus on mental health.
"We need to make sure that we're doing the job to address those issues and address those concerns," he said.
He and others who support gun rights argue that more background checks aren't the solution to preventing future mass shootings.
Pastor James Utley, of Malabys Crossroads Missionary Baptist Church, was also present at Wednesday's rally. He said the faith community should play a bigger role in advocating for gun safety and curbing gun violence.
"We've got to reach out beyond the walls, and that's what we're not doing," Utley said.