Survivors Speak!                  June 2021
Movement, Movements, and Mixed Emotions
We  are literally and figuratively moving. We are filled with gratitude for all the help along the way

Soon, we’ll be back in our RV, and traveling the country again. With the generosity of a dear friend who had space available, we spent much of the pandemic in California where Sandy grew up. We will miss our sanctuary, but we’re ready to move on, and we’ll be traveling abroad as well - more about that below.

Meanwhile, the gun safety movement is picking up steam. That fills our hearts with hope - but we know that it’s the exploding gun death numbers of the last two years that are precipitating some of the progress, and we know as well that the summer may well be even worse.

We choose to have hope. We also face the summer with some looming dread, because July 20 will mark the 9th anniversary of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre that took the life of our Jessi. But as we face down that tragi-versary and start marking the time leading up to a decade without our girl, we are actively engaged with more and more partners who are relentlessly working to make us all safer; that includes the president of the United States.

In early June, near the start of Gun Awareness Month, USA Today published our op-ed about the impact of gun violence on us personally and on this country, and ways to address it.

In mid-June, we were honored to be on a panel, “Ending Special Immunity for the Gun Industry,”  featuring Guns Down America, Giffords and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

We are thrilled that in this difficult legislative climate, gun legislation seems to be gaining traction. See our summary of activity and coverage below.

And we have a preview of something else we are thrilled to announce. In August, we’ll be at the Fringe Festival in Scotland, where a play by Kate Barton and Matthew that was inspired by the Aurora shooting will be presented. 

We wish you all peace and progress. 

In loving solidarity,

Sandy and Lonnie

Collaboration against Legal Protection for Gun Industry

We couldn’t be more thankful that Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and advocates are rallying behind a new attempt to defeat legal immunity for gun manufacturers. Schiff’s bill, HR2814, is being considered this session, and it could change the dynamic of gun violence by holding manufacturers and sellers responsible for their negligence. 

For us, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (commonly known by its acronym, PLCAA) isn’t just a bad law, it’s a law that has devastating personal consequences. In the aftermath of our daughter’s death, we became named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Lucky Gunner and others, while we were associated with the Brady.Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

The lawsuit failed, and despite the judge’s assertion that we would be held harmless by Brady for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees he awarded, we were not. We had to declare bankruptcy.

Read more here

Play Inspired by Aurora Tragedy to Debut

Five years ago two housemates in the United Kingdom were awake at 2 a.m. and talking about gun violence. Their late-night discussion germinated, and after years of further exchanges, research, and writing, the fruits of their labor — an award-winning one-act play about the life-altering impact of a mass shooting — will be premiering at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in Scotland this August.  

The 50-minute play, Screen 9, was created by Kate Barton with the participation of Matt Jennings. They  are cofounders (along with George Rexstrew) of Piccolo Theatre, based in London, and each comes to their collaboration with different backgrounds that informed the play: Jennings was born in the United States, leaving for the UK at 11, and Barton is a lifelong Briton. Those origins made for some differences in perspective when they looked across the Atlantic at the U.S. and considered gun violence and attitudes toward gun ownership and regulation. Why is it so hard for Americans to achieve gun-control measures?

What Barton and Jennings hope is that Screen 9 will give people an opportunity to come together and bridge gaps in their understanding and points of view, with an international aspect and relevance. “It’s a people story,” said Barton, with only about 10 percent of the play talking directly about guns and the rest about coping in the aftermath of shootings. “Everyone handles trauma differently,” said Jennings. 

Read more here

Biden Signs Bill Establishing Pulse Nightclub Memorial

President Joe Biden signed on June 25 legislation establishing a national memorial at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people had their lives taken by a mass shooter on June 12, 2016. The memorial was the idea of the nightclub's owner, who founded the onePULSE Foundation to raise money. 

"Just over five years ago, the Pulse nightclub, a place of acceptance and joy, became a place of unspeakable pain and loss.  And we’ll never fully recovery, but we’ll remember.  And we have to," Biden said.

An overview of of the memorial's design can be found here

President Announces New Gun-Violence Prevention Plan
President Joe Biden announced on June 23 a new multi-prong plan to reduce gun violence. The administration wants to: 
  • Stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence, including by holding rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws;
  • Support local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to help address summer violent crime;
  • Invest in evidence-based community violence interventions;
  • Expand summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and supports for teenagers and young adults; and
  • Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities.
"It means we go after the people who flood our streets with guns and the bad actors who decide to use them to further terrorize the communities.  It means saving lives," Biden said. 
In the News

Orlando Torres, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting that took the lives of 49 people in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, is interviewed on NPR

A San Antonio man who survived a shooting but was left paralyzed talks about continuing his education and moving forward with life. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed on June 19 a package of new gun-reform laws

Polis also signed, on June 27, legislation honoring Teri Leiker, one of 10 people killed in a shooting that took place on March 22 at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder. 

Gun deaths are surging in Iowa as a new law takes effect allowing people to carry weapons without a permit. 

Ryan Busse, a former executive in the firearms industry, joined Giffords as a senior advisor and will help outreach to gun owners who believe in commonsense reforms. 

Some Republican-led states are passing laws prohibiting local police from enforcing federal gun laws. 

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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