Survivors Speak!                  June 2022
A Rapid Cycle and Tumult

Over the past few weeks, we have been thinking of how survivors are changed by shootings, including the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. These devastating shootings have the power to break anyone. The appalling decisions from the US Supreme Court only served to intensify the terrible news. 

As we work our way through the shootings, and through life, we are reminded of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. When cracked or broken, pottery is mended with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum; the resulting pottery is stronger and more beautiful than before the break.  As a philosophy, kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. As survivors, we embrace that philosophy and strive to mend the breaks and be stronger.

These past few weeks we have felt whipsawed, as many of you probably did. We hope you will remember mindfulness and embrace your own kintsugi artwork of spirit and mind. Acknowledge what has happened to you and know that you don't need to disguise it.

We will acknowledge some exhaustion after our trips to Buffalo and Uvalde, though there is no place we would rather have been. In between meetings with the newly bereaved and connecting with resources for them, we spent time with public officials and the press. We finally managed to get a little downtime when we headed back east. And then June became a new rollercoaster of events and emotions, with legal developments that leave us a bit surprised on the one hand,and reeling with dismay on the other. 

After 30 years of stalemate, Congress has finally passed significant gun legislation once again. In the prelude to the bill’s final form, we were skeptical about what would emerge. We didn’t want watered-down appeasement that would accomplish little. In the end, what we got was something we think of as a partial loaf, but not merely crumbs. We are glad that the logjam broke and we celebrate the good aspects of this incremental progress. However, we will not be satisfied until and unless it is followed by more significant measures — and not 30 years later. (The new legislation is covered here and here, and we highlight some of what we need to see next in our "Where's the Rest?" summary, below). 

Before we could appreciate the modest victory, the Supreme Court punched us in the gut with the ruling that struck down New York’s 100-year-old concealed carry law. The decision wasn’t a surprise, but it was a terrible blow, based on a new and sweeping interpretation of the Second Amendment that goes far beyond Heller. The rationale seemed belied the very next day in another activist decision, an incongruity noted by many. 

While absorbing the news, we were honored to be part of a panel put on by Northwell Health in metropolitan New York, where we joined with fellow survivors to talk about our experiences. We link to the event in full, and to coverage of it. And just recently, Sandy had the chance to meld two parts of her past: She took part in a panel about gun violence and tourism. (The password to listen is Dw^!4add) What impact is gun violence having on our country’s attractiveness as a destination? It’s easy to imagine. 

We’ve been busy as well with commentary. Please check out below our joint piece with GVPedia's Devin Hughes, which we include below. In other news, our mindfulness meditation program for survivors is coming back in August, and we’re looking for more participants to join the free offering! Read more.

Finally, we profile a survivor who has lost three dear ones to gun violence. We met Shenee Johnson in New York about ten days ago, and we look forward to more time together.

It is now less than a month before we mark the 10 years since our beautiful Jessi was slaughtered. We will be making our way to Denver soon. We will not be alone. We are being met by a wonderful group of supporters who are sponsoring a fundraiser for us. (With a broken axle on our rig, the timing is helpful!) It touches us deeply that our mission and our work is appreciated. We appreciate you — and in this world torn by violence and hostility, we are all the more grateful for our friends and allies. 

Wishing you peace and love,

Sandy and Lonnie

We Can Change the Future of Gun Violence

The following op-ed was jointly published at Medium by Sandy Phillips, Survivors Empowered co-founder, and Devin Hughes, president and founder of
 GVPedia, a nonprofit that provides access to gun violence prevention research and data.

On Wednesday, May 24th in Uvalde, Texas, twenty-one more families learned the horrifying pain of a loved one murdered by a gun — a pain I know all too well. Almost ten years ago, my daughter, Jessi Ghawi, was fatally shot in the 2012 Aurora Theater mass shooting.

Jessi didn’t have to die and neither did the 21 innocent people in Uvalde — most of whom were just 10-years-old.

The shooting epidemic in the United States is the outcome of weak gun laws, a longstanding misinformation campaign by the gun lobby, the undue influence of the gun lobby on Congress, and a gun industry protected by Congress with immunity laws. It is a recipe that has resulted in life-ending disaster.

Read more here

Shenee Johnson: A New Life's Work

Shenee Johnson felt as if she was living the American dream, with the right husband, right house, and beloved children. “I was content,” she says.  And then, in a moment, on May 15, 2010, her beautiful life was upended with the shooting of her eldest son, Kedrick.

When he was killed in Queens, New York, Kedrick was a 17-year-old honor student, bound for St. John’s University on an  academic scholarship. He was the first of four sons, and a “super-brother” to Shonnon, then 6 years old, whom he picked up from school every day. Now Shon is a high school graduate, and his mother is an activist. 

Read more here

Northwell Health Mobilizes Survivors 

Survivors Empowered founders Sandy and Lonnie Phillips united with dozens of other gun-violence survivors to increase public awareness about the country’s mounting shooting deaths and draw more support for measures to prevent additional lives from being taken. 

Northwell Health System’s Center for Gun Violence organized the gathering, which took place on June 21 in New Hyde Park, New York. after Sandy and Lonnie returned from trips to Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. Mass shootings occurring in the two cities within a span of 10 days took the lives of 31 people, including 19 children. 

“I call on everyone who values the sanctity of human life to get involved now,” said Sandy.

Northwell’s hospitals have already treated more gun-violence victims in 2022 than in any previous year. In November 2021, clinicians at three of the health system’s hospitals began screening patients for their risk of injury from firearms. Along with being asked about alcohol and drug use, and smoking, patients are asked if they own a firearm, how they store their weapons, and if they hear gunshots in their neighborhood or have been threatened with a gun. 

In some neighborhoods, "literally every child hears gunshots every night,” said Chethan Sathya, a pediatric surgeon and director of the Center for Gun Violence. He said that it is “imperative” that hospitals and health systems be involved in “addressing some of the underlying causes of what is clearly a public health crisis."

"The most likely reason that your kid will die in this country is at the hands of a firearm – and that is absolutely unacceptable,” said Sathya. 

Where's The Rest?

We recognize that progress has finally been made in enacting federal gun legislation. But we want much more. We want safe storage laws that prevent children from killing themselves and other children with their parents’ guns. Some states have enacted such laws; why only a few? We need a federal standard that will help protect all of us.

We want to see military-style assault firearms regulated and the age to purchase any firearm raised from 18 to 21. That’s a federal law that would have stopped the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 of their peers were massacred, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rose ‌and screamed for an assault weapons ban. In the immediate aftermath, we were at a CNN “Town Hall" meeting. When Sen. Marco Rubio rejected the students' demand for an assault weapons ban, the room erupted as everyone jumped from their seats and shouted him down.

The young Parkland activists kept the pressure on their governor until he raised the age for buying an assault weapon to 21.

But instead of following Florida’s lead, Texas went in the opposite direction and passed a law they refer to as “constitutional carry.” That law allows anyone 18 and older to purchase an AR-15 and effectively opened the door for Robb Elementary to become a bookend to Sandy Hook Elementary.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas students continued to organize and formed March for Our Lives, an alliance that marched on Washington hoping for federal legislation.

Despite their courageous effort, obstructionist Sen. Mitch McConnell stopped them in their tracks when he refused to allow a vote on any gun control measures. Now there is something, but not nearly enough.

Under current Texas law, a person must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun, but on his 18th birthday the shooter in Uvalde legally bought two AR-15s designed by our military to be used in the jungles of Vietnam. 

How does that make any sense?

New York Sues Gun Manufacturers

New York is suing 10 gun distributors in federal court, alleging that they sold tens of thousands of illegal unfinished frames and receivers that were converted into untraceable “ghost" handguns and assault-style weapons by convicted felons and other buyers without a background check. 

Filed on June 29, the lawsuit names Brownells, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group (80 Percent Arms), Salvo Technologies Inc. (80 P Builder or 80P Freedom Co), G.S. Performance LLC (Glockstore), Indie Guns, Primary Arms, Arm or Ally, Rainier Arms, KM Tactical, and Rock Slide USA.

“While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold,” said Letitia James, New York’s attorney general. “There should be no more immunity for gun distributors bringing harm and havoc to New York."

The state is utilizing a law that allows the state and local governments to bring "public nuisance" civil lawsuits against any gun manufacturer and seller who fails to "establish and utilize reasonable controls and procedures to prevent its qualified products from being possessed, used, marketed or sold unlawfully."

Those that "recklessly create, maintain or contribute" to conditions that endanger public health and safety can be sued. A federal judge upheld the constitutionality of the law in June. 

New York City is also filing a separate federal lawsuit against five of the companies: Arm or Ally, 80P Builder, Rockslide USA, Rainier Arms and Indie Guns.

“Whether they are hidden in the trunks of cars or packed in a plain brown box, ghost guns are illegal in our city,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “We will take every lawful action possible to stop gun retailers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city." 

What Survivors Are Saying

“It’s something that has never really left me, but I really try to direct it into the positive or productive light nowadays.” Chris Welsh, who survived the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado

“From my own medical knowledge, she dodged paralysis by about two to three centimeters. She was extremely lucky.” Dr. John Park, whose mother was shot in May while inside a hair salon in Dallas

"Two-thirds of the kids who were wounded had been my students, so we were pretty close." Rachel Beckley-Rich, who was a teacher at Thurston High School in Oregon during a shooting there in 1998

"His death has taught us not to take anything for granted, how important relationships and being present are in life, and taught us to not carry the weight of things that don’t matter.” Lola Morgan, whose brother’s life was taken in 2016 by a shooter in Chicago

In The News

Survivors of a shooting that took the lives of four students inside Oxford High School in Michigan are suing the school district. The mother of a 14-year-old girl who survived the shooting is also suing the school district in a separate case. 

A survivor of the shooting in April on a New York City subway train is suing Glock, the manufacturer of the handgun that was used.

An article by WebMD profiles shooting survivors who have become active in the gun violence prevention movement. 

The Austin American-Statesman chronicles the many forms of guilt felt by survivors of gun violence.

Sarah Cowell, a gun violence survivor, writes in an op-ed about the re-traumatization she feels with every new shooting.

Tennis star Andy Murray discusses surviving a school shooting as a 9-year-old when a gunman took the lives in 1996 of 16 students and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. 

For more news in which we were featured, visit our media page and our collection of interviews after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

Calling All Artists!

Would you be willing to donate a piece of your lovely artwork for an auction to benefit Survivors Empowered? This July, when we are in Denver, we will host an artwork display and would be so grateful if you would consider donating a piece of your work to be auctioned. Email for more information. Thank you!
Support the Honor With Action Tour

Want to feel part of the action as we travel the country? Want to wear your feelings on your chest?

We've got beautiful hats, T-shirts and other apparel, as well as  tote bags, mugs and notecards, that are available to all via our online Bonfire store. We also have a new shirt with an "Only in America" message...and images of three assault weapons.

We will give out pens and notepads as complimentary "swag" at our upcoming stops.

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 created, in collaboration with Giffords, a toolkit for survivors, available at in downloadable PDF form at our website
  • 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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