For Susan Browder, 2012 was a a life-changing year.
In September her daughter, Sarah, was killed by her husband. He shot her twice with a handgun he kept in their Davie County home — once in the shoulder and once through the spine. He then turned the gun on himself. Though he died instantly, Sarah survived for four more days in a hospital ICU — a period of shock and numbness for her family that they barely remember.
Then, in December, came the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. A 20-year old young man shot and killed 20 children and six staff members before he, too, committed suicide with a gun.
For Browder, whose roles as mother, grandmother and retired teacher defined her life, the two tragedies were devastating. But slowly, as she educated herself about gun violence through her grief, they became inspiring.
“It was an evolution where I realized I had to do something,” Browder said.
Now a volunteer with North Carolina Moms Demand Action, she shares the most painful experience of her life to spotlight the need for gun safety measures — including background checks on all gun sales and red flag laws — that might have saved her daughter’s life.
“I wasn’t fully aware of the overlap of domestic violence and gun violence,” Browder said. “Sarah was very much involved with this charming young Marine. He had some mental health issues, but she wasn’t afraid of him. Over the course of the first year of her marriage we started to see control and isolation. By the time she’d been married a year she told me and her dad that she would have to get out of the relationship. We didn’t realize her life was in danger.”
The family didn’t then know that studies have shown a handgun in the home increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.
Armed with that knowledge, Browder has for years been working to help domestic violence victims and pass what she calls common-sense gun laws that will save lives.
Had there been a stronger federal background check system in place, Browder said her son-in-law might never have had the gun that ended her daughter’s life. Had North Carolina had a “red flag” law in place the family might have been able to get a court to temporarily remove guns from a home where domestic violence was in evidence.
In this year’s election, Browder’s personal story is the centerpiece of a $120,000 campaign to send letters to voters in select North Carolina House and Senate districts where Moms Demand Action believe they can elect leaders who will finally make progress on gun safety laws.
“I’m tired of watching politicians in the state legislature prioritize their gun lobby donors over our families,” said Susan Browder. “Now, it’s time to vote them out, and elect people who will fight to keep us safe.”
Polling shows a majority of voters already support better gun laws, Browder said. Last year a Quinnipiac University poll found 93 percent of American voters polled support requiring background checks on all gun sales. That support is strongly bipartisan, including 89 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of gun owners. Yet 22 percent of American report having made their most recent gun purchase in a way that utilized a background check loophole.
“I think people are pretty aware that gun sales have soared during the pandemic,” Browder said. “A lot of those sales are first time buyers.”
Overall gun purchase background checks are up 69 percent since last year, according to the FBI. Background checks for handgun purchases are up more than 80 percent. Those numbers only capture the sales that include checks.
That makes domestic violence concerns even more urgent, Browder said.
“There are a lot of domestic abusers who are armed for the first time in their lives,” Browder said.
North Carolina voters should keep victims like her daughter in mind when they go to the polls, Browder said, and elect candidates who are committed to doing something about it.