Survivors Speak!                              March 2023

Linked for Life

There’s a bright young 18-year-old in our lives: Lucy Sarkisian.

We first met Lucy in Washington, D.C. at a gun violence prevention event, and then more recently in Colorado  while working with allies on Colorado state gun violence prevention legislation.

We greatly value Lucy's intelligence, heart and commitment to gun violence safety. We also are pained that being gun violence survivors is what first tied us, and so many, together.

Nearly four years ago in Colorado, Lucy was traumatized by gun violence at her school. We profile her in this issue - perhaps especially fitting during March, a month meant to recognize women’s contributions, and also tragically because of this month’s school shootings.

Since our last newsletter, Lonnie and I were interviewed by reporters, met with Colorado Governor Jared Polis, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Colorado Sun, and testified about the terrible harm that Colorado’s Limitations on Civil Actions Regarding Firearms has done to us and others.

Gun violence safety legislation made it out of committee and we are beyond moved that the Gun Violence Victim’s Access to Justice Act, poised to be signed by the Governor, will be named “The Jessi Redfield Ghawi Act for Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice and Firearms Industry Accountability,” and referred to as “Jessi’s Law.”

But in the meantime, there’s been more bloodshed in Colorado, Tennessee, and all over the country. Yet more school shootings. Yet more hurt and grieving. Our hearts are with the survivors and their communities. Please share our free, online Survivors Toolkit with survivors so they can recognize signs of shock and learn how to best navigate the aftermath of gun violence.

We highlight Colorado’s red flag, immunity, waiting period, anti-automatic weapon, and raise-the-age bills, and provide a roundup of some other important policy and legislative developments around the country.

Thank you to President Joe Biden, who on March 14 used his executive order power to pave the way for greater support directed toward gun violence survivors and their communities.

As in every issue, we share other survivors’ words, and we collect some story links. 

Centering survivors is central to another one of our recent projects. Our new book, collecting twenty survivors' stories and photos, is soon to be released. The Forgotten Survivors of  Gun Violence: Wounded, co-edited by us, Loren Kleinman, and Shauvan Scott, will be available for pre-order on May 10. 

While we travel, we maintain our meditation practice, and we continue developing retreats in Mexico for survivors. For us, it is vital to keep our balance, and to spend time in a healing mode. For the newest survivors, we offered our love, support, toolkit  — and commitment to change.

As so much violence impacts all of our days, and as it is so easy to get at least a bit down, we are heartened that there are energetic young people who are taking up the mantle for change. We believe in them. But we know that each of us, no matter our age or circumstance, can work together for good. Thank you for all you do. 

Peace and love,

Sandy and Lonnie

New Legislation Includes Law Named for Jessi 

Colorado's state Senate and House have passed two gun violence preventions bills, including the Jessi Redfield Ghawi Act (Senate Bill 168), which repeals an onerous law that provided near-blanket legal immunity to gun companies and makes it easier for survivors to sue for accountability.

Jessi, who was killed in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in 2012, is the daughter of Survivors Empowered's founders. Both chambers also passed:

  • Senate Bill 170: Adds district attorneys, educators, health care providers and licensed mental health professionals to the list of people who can file an Extreme Risk Protection Order to remove someone’s guns.
  • Senate Bill 169: Raises the age to purchase any type of firearm to 21.
Colorado also has pending legislation, House Bill 1219, that would institute a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. There is, however, also a proposed law, HB 1204, that would allow concealed carry guns on school grounds. 

At the federal level, President Joe Biden announced on March 14 an executive order listing steps his administration will take to reduce gun violence, including increasing background checks for firearm sales and the use of "red flag" laws, and improving federal support for survivors and their families. Read a full summary here
A Member of the Lock-Down Generation Becomes Survivor-Activist 

As an elementary-school student in Colorado, Lucy Sarkissian felt terror when a shooter took the lives of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.  Nearly a year to the day later, a shooter killed a student at Arapahoe High School in a suburb of Denver, close enough that Lucy’s school ordered a lockdown.

Six years later, reality struck more than excruciatingly close — this time when two shooters began firing across the hallway from where Lucy, then 14 years, sat in a psychology class at STEM School Highlands Ranch just outside Denver.

“That's a very American experience, to say the least: growing up being terrified of shootings and practicing drills for them, only to end up being in a shooting later in your life,” she said. 

It is an experience the high school senior is working to prevent for others, along with her peers in a burgeoning youth movement against gun violence.

Read more here

A Nation In Fear of Gun Violence

The New York Times received 600 responses to the question: How does the threat of gun violence affect you? Here are some of the responses. More can be found here.

  • “I’m a veteran and have served in combat. I felt safer in combat than I do going to the grocery store.” Fetzer Mills Jr., Ripley, Tenn.
  • “If I decide to leave this country, gun violence is the biggest reason.” Janghee Cho, 36, Boulder, Colo.
  • “I was assigned to a desk where my back was to the door. I moved desks so now I can see the front door clearly from where I sit. Whenever someone walks in, I look up.” Amelia, Hoboken, N.J.
  • “I am going to encourage my high school senior grandson not to attend college in an open-carry state or where gun control laws are virtually nonexistent.” Rich T., Monroe, N.Y.
  • “I live in Texas, so it’s not an exaggeration to say I think about gun violence every time I leave my home. I doubt I’ll ever go to a very large gathering ever again. When I go to church, I think about the safest place to run or hide in the sanctuary.” Steve Scorse, Denver
Report Highlights Gun Manufacturers

Glock and Smith & Wesson were the top manufacturers of guns used in crimes between 2017 and 2021, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

An analysis of 1.9 million requests the ATF received from police agencies to trace crime guns also found that a large percentage of the weapons recovered in states with strong gun laws were purchased elsewhere.

Pistols represented nearly 70 percent of the weapons, followed by rifles (12.4 percent) and revolvers (11 percent). Glock manufactured 19.6 percent of the pistols and Smith & Wesson, 14 percent. The most prevalent calibers were 9 mm (49.5 percent of traced pistols) and .40 (16.8 percent of pistols). 

In New Jersey, 81.8 percent of recovered guns traced to a purchaser were bought out of state, and in New York state, 79.7 percent. Massachusetts (67.1 percent), Hawaii (54.1) and Maryland (53.4) followed those states. 

Of the nearly 1.5 million guns traced to a buyer during the five-year period, nearly half (46 percent) were used in crimes less than three years after being bought, and about 25 percent within a year of their purchase. The percentage of guns used in a crime within a year of being bought rose from 20 percent in 2019 to 32 percent in 2021. 

The full report can be found 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 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.
What Survivors Are Saying

"Our hearts are completely broken." The family of Evelyn Dieckhaus, a third-grader who was among three children and three adults whose lives were taken at The Covenant School in Nashville on March 27

"How are our children still dying and why are we failing them? These shootings, and these mass shootings, will continue to happen until our lawmakers step up and pass safer gun legislation." Ashbey Beasley, who survived a shooting in Illinois, in July and was near the shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27

“I shouldn’t have to be here right now, but I am because my friends don’t have a voice no more.” Caitlyne Gonzales, a 10-year-old survivor of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas

“As he panned the room with his handgun, I pleaded for my life and screamed, 'Please don't shoot me.' We were met, face to face, with pure evil." Troy Forbush, who survived a shooting at Michigan State University

"I’m trying to be a person that wants to help and be able to create something, so these kids don’t be the next kid getting shot or being the person that’s shooting.” Jahzir Davis, who started a boxing program in Philadelphia

“We have a lot of people that say, 'I have sleepless nights, I'm having thoughts of hearing “gunshots, PTSD. No matter how much you hear it on the news, when it happens to you, you honestly feel isolated." DeAnra Yates, who helped launched a website with resources for survivors in Indianapolis

In The News

Thousands of people gathered at the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville to call for legislative action in response to the shooting that took the lives of three children and three adults at a private school on March 27. 

The Michigan Senate passed a package of gun-safety bills, including ones requiring universal background checks and allowing police to confiscate weapons from people considered a significant risk to themselves or others.

The North Carolina Legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of legislation that will eliminate the permit requirement for handguns and allow concealed weapons to be carried on the properties of some schools.

The New York Times highlights how fraudsters try to profit off of high-profile shootings by setting up phony online fundraisers that exploit victims and people wanting to help. 

A Michigan Court of Appeals judge ruled that the parents of the teenager who took the lives of four students at Oxford High School in November 2021 can stand trial for involuntary manslaughter. 

The families who had the lives of loved ones taken during the Atlanta spa shootings in March 2021 are being helped through the trial process by victims advocates. 

A federal judge hearing a lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general’s office ordered 10 companies to stop selling in New York state the unfinished frames and receivers that are used to make untraceable “ghost guns.” 

In the face of unrelenting violence, we remember our daughter's words:

“I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift." 

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