By Ana Martinez-OrtizBrooke Shawver is no stranger to gun violence. As a child and later a young woman, two pivotal moments, each involving a gun, happened to her. These experiences have come to define and shape her purpose in life.
For 12 years, Shawver struggled to share her story. But six months ago, something changed. Shawver, an event leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (Moms) and street medic, began sharing what made her the woman she is today.
“I needed to heal myself before I could help heal others,” she said.
Slowly she began recounting how she became a gun violence survivor.
Originally born in Kansas, Shawver moved to Mequon at 8-years-old. A year later, her best friend discovered his father’s gun. Unaware that it was loaded, he played with it, turned it around and shot himself.
“It was an isolated incident,” she said, but scaring nonetheless.
Nearly twenty years later, her second gun experience occurred.
At this point, Shawver was 28-years-old and dancing for a ballet company in Chicago. She attended Columbia and had lived in various neighborhoods throughout the city including Lincoln Park, Boystown and Bronzeville. The sound of gunshots was a familiar noise, she recalled.
Around this time, Shawver’s boyfriend, a drug dealer, was physically abusing her. One day he held her at gunpoint and Shawver decided enough was enough. She flushed his product down the toilet and made a run for it.
She switched companies, moved houses and, with the help of some friends, reinvented her life. A privilege few gun survivors are given.
“I survived by lucky circumstances,” she said.
And over time Shawver began to heal. She got married, gave birth to two kids and moved to Milwaukee. But Shawver couldn’t ignore the desire or the need to do something more when it came to gun violence.
“Having kids brought out the aggressive mama bear [in me],” she said.
Several years ago, right around the time her daughter began attending Atwater, she joined Moms after seeing a post about it on Facebook.
“I went to one meeting,” she said, “And I was a lead.”
Moms is for the second amendment, she explained, but they want common sense laws like Red Flag laws.
As an event lead, Shawver helped coordinate events like Wear Orange and arranged meetings in schools. She also began working with Outreach and Sojourner House to close the loopholes regarding domestic violence.
As a survivor of domestic violence, Shawver struggled to receive the legal help she needed because her abuser was only a boyfriend and not a husband. Women are 16 times more likely to experience gun violence she said, and they deserve a chance to take legal action. Adding that there are probably more survivors of gun violence than accounted for because not every incident of gun violence involves a bullet, sometimes it’s just the threat of one.
Shawver also stressed the importance of following the golden standard that if one owns a gun, keep the gun and ammunition separated and locked away out of the reach of prying hands.
Aside from following the golden standard, Shawver also encourages parents to have conversations with their kids and fellow parents about guns and gun violence. Shawver said she’ll ask her children’s friends parents if they own a gun and how they store it before allowing them to have a playdate.
“It needs to be okay to have a conversation,” Shawver said, admitting she’d rather have one awkward conversation because the alternative is unthinkable.
Shawver will soon be transitioning from an event lead to an Outreach co-lead. She’ll continue to be an advocate for the cause and share her story. She hopes that by sharing her story, more survivors will speak up and that the community begins to address not just the issues of gun violence, but violence in general.
“Violence is a disease, it doesn’t just affect the family, it affects the community at large,” she said.