Survivors Speak!                  April 2021
A Relentless Tide of Gun Violence

Waves of mass shootings in the last two months are part of a tsunami of gun violence. Since the pandemic, there has been no slowing of the deadly stream of gun killings. Instead, there is a raging torrent, with 2020 being the most lethal year in two decades. 


We are horrified, as we have been many times since we founded Survivors Empowered, but we are facing up to the relentless tide with new allies, new actions and — dare we say it — new hope.

Part of our hope comes from knowing that most Americans are sick and tired of our nation’s singular problem with guns. We are heartened that this year, in state legislatures and on the national level, new laws are being drafted and proposed. In this issue, we shine a spotlight on one such effort in Massachusetts. 

We are in Washington, D.C. this week. After more than a year in COVID isolation, we are thrilled to be meeting with policymakers and advocates who are pushing for change, now. 

Since last month, when we told you about our alliance with Boulder therapists, that program has flourished. We give you a brief update, and a link for more information should you need this resource or want to pass it along.

We’re honored to have been interviewed several times in the last few months about crucial issues — such as what can stem the onslaught of gun violence, and what supports can help survivors. If you haven’t heard these broadcasts or seen the coverage, please take a look at recent links below. 

We have had an ever-increasing number of contacts from people in the community. We are overwhelmed, in the most positive way. We appreciate each and every one of you as we walk together.

Yours in solidarity,
Sandy and Lonnie

Massachusetts Bill Challenges 'Gun Valley'

The semiautomatic assault weapon used to kill Jessica Ghawi and 11 other people as they watched a movie inside a theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012, was outfitted with a 100-round magazine.

The gun was also made in Massachusetts, a state that bans the sale and possession of assault weapons within its boundaries but is home to Smith & Wesson and other gun manufacturers who export their products to other states, where they can be sold to the public.

Now, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, Ghawi’s parents and the founders of Survivors Empowered, have joined Massachusetts legislators and gun-reform advocates in calling for the state to practice what it preaches by approving a bill that extends its bans on assault weapons to their manufacture for use by consumers.

Read more here

Bill Seeks End To Legal Immunity for Gun Industry

Democratic members of Congress are trying to undo a law that, in nearly all cases, shields gun and ammunition manufacturers, distributors and dealers from civil liability cases in federal and state courts.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff of California and Jason Crow of Colorado are among a coalition of legislators backing a bill to overturn the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 and signed by former President George W. Bush after a lobbying campaign by the National Rifle Association.

In general, PLCAA exempts weapons manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits “for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, or penalties, or other relief, resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party.” The law carves out certain exceptions.

The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act introduced by Blumenthal, Schiff and their colleagues on April 22 would repeal PLCAA. If passed, it will also end a prohibition on the use of federal gun-trace data in civil court proceedings, allowing plaintiffs to use the data against gun manufacturers and dealers.

Read more here

Boulder Support Groups Draw Help from Near and Far

Therapists in Boulder sprang into action shortly after the King Soopers grocery store massacre, and have been providing weekly support sessions for first responders, survivors, and other affected ever since. (See our earlier story in last month’s newsletter). Next week marks the last of these initial meetings on Tuesday, starting at 4 PM, MST. Survivors Empowered has participated, and we are continuing the conversation with ideas sprouting for future collaborations. 

Phillip Horner of Whole Connections, a driving force behind the effort, says it has gone “amazingly well,” with many repeat attendees. During the first sessions, about 60 people joined in, with volunteer therapists and facilitators from around the country. Most of those in the groups were from the Boulder area, but a few who were grappling with gun violence trauma came from other places. 

Horner praised Sandy’s role. “She has been lovely to work with,” he said, thankful for her support in connecting people on the national level, and for showing up to offer her number, letting people know “I’m here.” 

Sandy and Lonnie go to Washington

In a whirlwind trip that included talks with the White House, meeting with David Chipman, the newly named head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, participating in "A State of the Union on Gun Violence" with #TheTimeIsNow Coalition, and strategy sessions with allied groups and old friends, Lonnie and Sandy made the most of their time and their first trip post-pandemic. Here is a video of the Time is Now event. Sandy and Lonnie start speaking at 50:00. 

Survivors Empowered will continue collaborating and fighting. We will give a recap of the whole trip in next month's newsletter.

In the News

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips discuss the death of their daughter, Jessi Ghawi, in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and the outrage and pain that led to their formation of Survivors Empowered during an interview with Tanzina Vega of the WNYC show The Takeaway on April 19.

CNN's Don Lemon interviewed Sandy and Lonnie about America's flood of gun violence. "We know that executive actions only go so far. So we really need the American people to stand up."

President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and close background check loopholes in a speech on April 27. “We’re not changing the Constitution; we’re being reasonable,” he said.

The Guardian profiles John Rosenthal, the founder of the Boston-based Stop Handgun Violence, and a leader in the movement behind successful reform legislation that has decreased gun deaths in Massachusetts to record lows.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a major gun rights case in which the New York Rifle & Pistol Association is challenging the state’s strict limit on when people can get licenses to carry concealed weapons outside their homes.

Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who both represent New Jersey in Congress, have reintroduced legislation to outlaw the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer and possession of gun silencers.

Published in October 2019, Tragedy in Aurora: The Culture of Mass Shootings in America, is Tom Diaz's account of the death of Lonnie and Sandy Phillips' daughter, Jessi, and the political polarization and stagnation behind the country's failure to enact common-sense policies to stem gun violence. 

The book can be found on Amazon here.  

Help For Survivors
  • Survivors Empowered has a roster of dedicated trauma therapists who help survivors of gun violence heal from the aftermath. Visit our website for more information. 
  • We continue to look for volunteers across the country who want to help build coalitions and work with survivors of gun violence in their states. If interested in supporting our efforts, please contact us here.
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