Hopkinton mom channels grief into action on gun violence prevention 

  • Nancy Brown holds a necklace made of metal repurposed from the barrel of a gun. Nina Moske / Monitor staff

Monitor staff 
Published: 6/6/2023 12:17:01 PM

Nancy Brown pulled a necklace out of a small cardboard box. Its pendant was heart-shaped and made of thick metal, and it hung on a long black cord. 

“Isn’t it pretty?” she said. “It’s made from the barrel of a rifle.” 

Brown, who lives in Hopkinton, is the project coordinator for New Hampshire’s first Guns to Gardens event with GunSense NH, a project of Granite State Progress. The event, which will take place at Wesley United Methodist Church on June 10, will allow community members to give up their unwanted firearms to be re-purposed into gardening tools and other metal items, like Brown’s necklace. 

In New Hampshire, people who wish to get rid of their firearms have few options. “If you have a gun in your home and you don’t want it, and you don’t want it to go back into circulation, you can destroy it yourself,” Brown said. “But that’s about all you can do.”

Guns to Gardens will provide that service. Attendees will drive to the event with unloaded firearms in the trunks of their cars, and trained volunteers will use a chop saw to turn the weapons into scrap metal. Attendees can then donate the scraps to be reforged into “lovely things and art and tools” that are “more useful, and less harmful, to our community,” Brown explained.  

Throughout the event, there will be support for people donating guns. Attendees can choose to remain anonymous and stay in their cars. “Trained listeners” will also be available after the weapons have been disabled. “Others who have done these events around the country report that some people bring guns with a heavy history and sometimes need to share that story,” Brown explained. 

Brown describes her passion for gun violence prevention as a “force” that won’t let her go. She began working on the issue in retirement, but has been interested in the cause for years. 

The 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado alerted Brown to the severity of gun violence. “It was April vacation, and we were packing to go on vacation. I turned the radio on and it was the Columbine shooting,” she said. “I just sat down and thought, ‘We can’t go anywhere, we can’t do anything, we have to figure this out…how could this happen?’” 

Two years later, Brown and her family experienced an unexpected tragedy of their own. Her son, Carter, died in a tractor accident at 13. “It was devastating,” she said, “and our church community, our neighborhood community in Hopkinton, they just picked us up and they carried us until we could walk again.” 

“It took a whole community to do that for this one little family…this one heartbreak. So how does a community with so many heartbreaks at the same time ever manage to do that?” she said of communities that experience mass shootings. 

Brown explained that people with guns in their homes are at higher risk of gun-related deaths than people without guns. In New Hampshire, those deaths are most likely to be suicides. 

“If we feel like we have to turn to guns for safety, then we have work to do,” she said. “For me, as a result of the experience with our son, our safety comes from a sense of community and taking care of each other, not shooting each other.” 

By re-purposing weapons through Guns to Gardens, Brown hopes to make tangible progress on an issue that, she says, often feels “like banging your head against a wall.”

“If I can help keep one mass shooting from happening, one suicide from happening, one domestic homicide from happening, then I think that I’m working on the right things,” she said. “For every gun that comes in, that’ll be one less possibility of a death from that particular weapon.”

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