Susan Browder stared with a solemn gaze at the crowd Sunday at Citizens Field. She held a picture of her 29-year-old daughter, Sarah, smiling in a black dress. Sarah was shot and killed by an abusive partner in 2012 in North Carolina.
Browder, a mother of three who has since moved to Florida, is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She shared her daughter’s story Sunday afternoon at the Florida Day of Action event, which featured multiple speakers and organizations helping to raise awareness.
Moms Demand Action is a nonprofit organization founded after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012. Its aim is to promote safer gun legislation and encourage responsible gun ownership. The organization has chapters in every state and has advocated for gun safety on a state and national level.
Browder was the first speaker to take the stage on Sunday. She told the audience how Sarah was stuck in an abusive marriage, and when she threatened to leave, her husband Kirk Harris shot her in the throat and then shot himself. Sarah died five days after, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, while Harris was dead instantaneously, Browder said.
“I lie awake at night agonizing over what Sarah experienced in that house,” Browder said. “I worry about the horror and pain she must have experienced when she heard the gunfire and felt the first bullet pierce her throat.”
Harris shot Sarah with an unauthorized personal handgun, Browder said. She encouraged the audience to get involved with Moms Demand Action and put pressure on legislators to pass laws mandating safer gun use.
SB 888 and HB 73, two bills in the legislative session paired as the Self-Defense Restoration Act, are moving to repeal the Stand Your Ground Statute. SB 1188 and HB 1465, a second bill pairing called “Fund Community Violence Intervention and Prevention,” would give state funding to organizations that aid gun violence survivors and advocate for safer gun use.
The main opposition to these bills come from the National Rifle Association, said Rebecca Darnell, the legislative leader of the Gainesville chapter of Moms Demand Action. Darnell points out that it’s not so much as the NRA members, but more so the leaders of the organization who do not wish to see any type of act restricting the Second Amendment.
“I think they’re so focused on not wanting any gun laws that they don’t want to entertain any idea that there would be any gun safety laws,” Darnell said
Several organizations, such as the Gainesville branch of GoDDsville Dream Defenders, were also invited to set up tables and inform attendees about their mission.
The Dream Defenders is an advocacy group that works to promote rights for people of color, abolish privatized prisons and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
GoDDsville volunteer Kenya Warner, a 20-year-old UF computer science sophomore and survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, spoke about how little gun regulation the U.S. has despite an increase in school shootings.
“It's not the pattern of gun violence in America, but the fact that we see the pattern,” Warner said. “We see that there are school shootings, community shootings constantly, and there's no work that's being done. No matter how hard we try. No matter how much we scream or cry.”
Warner talked about feeling survivor’s guilt after the Douglas shooting and vowed to stand up for safer gun legislation through community activism.
“It was a harrowing experience,” Warner said. “And one that I don't want anyone else to go through.”
The event also featured musical performances from students, volunteers and community leaders. The audience stood up as 15-year-old Eastside High sophomore Justice Alexander began the program by singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day. The audience swayed and turned as Deeproots Creative Services CEO Turbado Marabou and UNESCO International Dance Council Member Barakissa Coulibaly led the audience in a West African dance.
City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker also attended the event to show her support for gun safety. Duncan-Walker expressed her concern at the rising number of gun-related deaths in Gainesville over the past couple years.
She proposed a cultural arts center be built in East Gainesville, where at-risk youth can come and have a safe space and explore alternatives to dangerous exploits.
“This issue of gun violence is pervasive,” Duncan-Walker said. “This issue of gun violence will not be solved overnight. This issue of gun violence will take all hands on deck.”
The event concluded with Moms Demand Action volunteer Robin Lillie singing “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston. Lillie had also lost her son, 29-year-old Tyler Pearson, in 2019 to gun violence.
Members of the audience, including Duncan-Walker and many other leaders and activists, walked toward the stage and sang in unison as the sun set.
Contact Erina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_ .
Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.