The tears, heartache and years of work fruitlessly lobbying for tightening the nation’s gun laws took their toll on Susan Kirby Browder.
Following the 2012 killing of her 29-year-old daughter — Sarah Browder was shot in the neck by her husband and died four days later — Browder and her husband Sandy immersed themselves into pressing for laws aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, people with a history of mental illness and/or a proven propensity for violence.
Passing common-sense reforms of the sort supported by a large majority of Americans seemed a modest goal.
The Browders helped form a local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, a grassroots lobbying organization founded by parents of children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary, and set to work.
Ten years passed with little other than lip service. Members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis in particular — offered little other than thoughts and prayers given so many times that they turned into punchlines and memes.
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And then, following the slaughter of 19 kids and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, some signs of progress emerged in Washington.
Baby steps, yes, but supported by 10 Republican senators once considered impediments — Burr and Tillis among them.
“It’s the first time since my daughter died that I felt like either of them — I’ve talked to both about it — made me feel like they were listening.”
The long road to realizing even modest reform began for the Browders early in the morning of Sept. 23, 2012, when a newspaper carrier found Sarah with gunshot wounds to her throat and shoulder.
She’d been shot by her husband, a jealous, troubled and controlling active-duty Marine, who turned the gun on himself. Sarah Virginia Carr Browder died four days later after being removed from life-support. She was 29.
“People always say that it does get better,” Susan Browder said in 2017 just before a fundraiser for Moms Demand Action. “And for us, it does. We grieve and think about her every day. It’s not debilitating now.
“My whole family has thrown ourselves into trying to keep it from happening to anybody else.”
Of course, not much of substance changed.
Carnage continued in places that have become part of a gruesome litany: Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Fla., Buffalo and Uvalde. It happened in churches, schools and grocery stores.
Sandy and Susan moved from Winston-Salem to Florida, unable to resist the pull of grandchildren and wintertime warmth.
They continued to press for gun-law reform, obviously, but began to wonder what it would take to break the hold, greased by campaign cash, that the National Rifle Association had over politicians.
Burr, to the surprise of no one who’s followed the ignominious end to a career, drank deeply from the NRA trough by banking a cool $7 million, second most among the Senate hog pen.
Tillis raked in a more modest $4.4 million — smaller, yes, but good for fourth on that list.
Then came Uvalde, a tragedy made far worse by the specter of police standing around for more than 45 minutes while listening to children die. Suddenly some of the political class — at least those standing in the way of any change — realized that thoughts, prayers and running out the clock wasn’t going to cut it this time.
A bipartisan group of senators, including Tillis, announced over the framework for a deal.
The proposals, while modest, include strengthening background checks for people under 21 by including their juvenile records in the those checks, investing in mental-health programs and providing a carrot in the form of federal money to states that opt to enact “red-flag” laws which make it easier for law-enforcement, with a court order, to seize guns from people deemed to be dangerous.
Another would close a so-called “boyfriend” loophole. Current law prohibits spouses (or unmarried co-parents) convicted of domestic violence or under a restraining order from owning guns; the framework spelled out would extend that to significant others.
The framework, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators including Tillis, does not include raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 nor prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines holding 15 or more rounds.
The explanation, of course, is simple. In an evenly divided Senate, any gun-control proposal that strays beyond stronger background checks or plying states with money to enact their own red-flag laws stands no chance.
Still, to people like Susan Browder long accustomed to indifference (or outright hostility) from some in Congress, even a hint of a deal is a ray of light piercing years of darkness.
“Any improvement that keeps a weapon out of someone’s hands who shouldn’t have one will save a life,” she said Monday. “If one new law keeps one murderer from being able to get a gun then somebody will not die.
“I was very depressed (about a lack of progress) for a while but I’ve gone from being depressed to being energized. … there is hope. If there is change that can save another family from going through what we have experienced, it helps. It all helps.”
And for many, hope and change far outweighs empty thoughts and prayers.
Mourning mother finds hope in reports of a modest breakthrough in gun laws