Survivors Speak!                  September 2021
Fall Begins and Planning Continues

As this issue appears, we’re covering  both actual and metaphoric ground. We’re in our RV, preparing for the year-long tour we’ve scheduled to begin this January. One of our planned capstones: a gathering in July, in Aurora, Colorado, to reflect upon the decade since Jessi was so violently taken from us by a mass murderer, and to build a better future for all of us physically and psychologically brutalized by unrelenting gun violence.  

We are working hard on many fronts and are blessed with avid volunteers who generously give of their time — and their money — to help us tell survivors’ stories and build a movement for change. We recently surveyed you to find out more about what you want, and what you're thinking - we report in this issue on the results. 

One of our goals is to raise the funds needed to bring to the United States the wonderful playwright and United Kingdom theater troupe behind Screen Nine, a hit play based on what happened in Aurora during and after our daughter and 11 other innocent people were shot to death on July 20, 2012. Our effort is about pushing through pain, and we know that having the story of that night told in Colorado would be a new order of gut-wrenching for us.

Check out our story below about another hard-hitting piece affecting audiences,  American Morning. We are so glad to know its writer Stephen Dexter, and we look forward to showing the film far and wide. We believe in the power of art to move people, and we must move people to drive positive action.

As for what kind of action we’re seeing, please take a look at our
op-ed in the Denver Post. We were so glad to see them publish our reaction to the withdrawal of the nomination of David Chipman to direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. What a frustrating time it is. We appreciate the intentions of the Biden administration, but we cannot stand by when so many of those intentions are stalling. There are just too many deaths each day. 

As always, we select a few news stories to highlight, and we suggest some ways you can weigh in to the gun violence conversation.

On another — and crucial — note, we understand people who donate funds appreciate knowing just what their dollars can buy. First, THANK YOU ALL for keeping us rolling, and standing by us on this journey. And now, to be literal and not just metaphoric: One of our RV tires just blew out! As the donation season heats up, please consider supporting a number of needs we must meet in this critical period.

In solidarity, and rolling,

Sandy and Lonnie

"American Morning": Using Art to End Gun Violence

Actor, writer and producer Stephen Dexter has been transforming his rage and frustration about gun violence into art, with the hope he can inspire action.

Several years ago, after being shocked by the unrelenting toll of shootings, Dexter had had enough. He joined anti-gun violence groups, but still wondered, “What more can I do that I haven’t been doing to possibly purge this rage inside me?” And he came up with this answer: “I know how to write.” It took several years, but now his 25-minute short film, American Morning, is drawing accolades on the film festival circuit.  

He is a great fan of Survivors Empowered, and he hopes that Sandy and Lonnie eventually will take his film on the road and get it in front of as many interested eyes as possible. 

American Morning came out of a place of pure anger then morphed into sadness, grief and utter disbelief that after so many mass shootings and so many innocent lives being taken, that there weren’t things being changed on the federal level,” Dexter says.

Dexter plays American Morning's main character, Connor. The film chronicles the growing despair and anger of a teacher devastated by a shooting that claims the life of one of his students. Esteemed actor Richard Schiff co-stars. Connor is plagued by guilt and also appalled by the apparent roadblocks that stymie even reasonable gun violence prevention measures. That leads him to contemplate desperate measures.

You can watch the trailer for American Morning
here and see the entire film at the New York Shorts International Film Festival or on demand in late-October. Join the film’s Facebook page to buy tickets and find out about additional screenings.

Dexter isn’t seeking to ban guns entirely. He is, however, crying out for changing what he considers the obvious: getting rid of gun-show loopholes, banning assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines. And it’s not just about mass  shootings for him, either. It’s about the South Side of Chicago and other places around the country, where even state gun-safety measures are less-effective because surrounding states have few restrictions. 

“It’s such common sense,” he says. “It’s not about rescinding the Second Amendment.” 

We will keep you updated with more information about this hard-hitting film. Tip o’ the hat to Stephen Dexter and all of the fine collaborators he’s assembled. 

"Survey Says": We Asked, You Answered

Thank you to everyone who responded to our recent survey. The results assure us that we’ve been on the right path, and we’re planning activities in sync with your needs and hopes. 

We are so gratified to learn that our core effort — aiding survivors, the need behind the founding of Survivors Empowered — is something you especially value. In response to the question “What do you want most from Survivors Empowered,” more than 80 percent told us you want “Rapid response to mass shootings with our presence (actual or virtual).”

The other possible answers to the questions were also popular, with each garnering a thumbs-up from more than 50 percent of respondents. Those options included: gathering and disseminating information about gun violence (including this newsletter); other outreach (and presence in mass media); advocacy efforts; emotional support and training, such as mindfulness meditation; and connections to other sources of support.

That means we’re not tossing anything off our plates! In fact, we’re adding substantially to our menu for the next year, because we’ll be traveling the country for a multimedia tour that will bring information to you, and will feature art, whether it be film, theater, or visual. 

Although you appreciate the support Survivors Empowered continues to provide, it’s not a one-way street. You want to serve, and nearly 60 percent want to hear from us about opportunities. One way you’d like to participate is through writing letters-to-the editor and commentary. In this newsletter, we’re including links to some very recent news articles, and guidance on how you can write in response. Please share your efforts, tell us if you need help and let us know how you fare!

Many of you participate with other national and state organizations, and more than 70 percent of you want to participate in coalitions or alliances, as well as make your opinions known to your representatives. When it comes to what you want to see public officials do, 100 percent checked “Federal legislation mandating robust background checks.” 

But while that was the only unanimous answer, legislation to increase gun safety through trigger locks, safe storage mandates, etc., was a close second at more than 94 percent, and these answers all got more than 75 percent: creation of an Office of Gun Violence in the Biden Administration; repeal of PLCAA (the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act); and federal legislation against ghost guns.

The door’s not closed yet! If you’d like to add your comments, please go to this link.
What Survivors Are Saying

“I know what it's like to be thrust into complete chaos in seconds. I know what it's like to not know where your friends, siblings, people that you love are for hours at a time,” Joshua Jones said in a tearful statement to the courtroom. “I know what it's like to get pains in your leg, because that's where you were shot twice by someone you thought you knew.” From "STEM School Shooter Sentenced to LIfe Without Parole" 

“I want to not have to talk,” said Polly Sheppard. “But people want to hear. And it’s healing some people. Some people are hurting, and they want to hear how I came up. Just to see me not all confused and crazy. It gives them hope.” From "After the Gunfire Stops" 

“The texts Selene sent us while she cowered for her life under a desk are branded in our memories,” Oz San Felice said. “So much has changed since that fateful day. Medications and therapy have become part of our lives. Restful sleep is rare, and nightmares are our new normal. I pray that no parent has to ever go through what we have been through.” From "Capital Gazette Gunman Sentenced to Five Life Terms" 

“We were supposed to be at our wedding today, but instead we’re in the hospital,” Jennifer Cox said. From "Uptown Shooting Survivor Speaks Out From Hospital Bed" 

In the News

Photographer Amnon Gutman discusses his project documenting gun-violence prevention efforts in Brooklyn, New York. 

NPR writes about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new projects studying the impact of gun violence after decades of being blocked from funding studies by the gun lobby and members of Congress.

The Washington Post chronicles gun violence in rural areas in response to a shooting inside a Kroger supermarket in Tennessee. 

State representatives in Illinois have introduced legislation that would allow any resident to sue gun manufacturers, importers and dealers whose weapons cause injury or death.  

USA Today reports that Smith & Wesson is moving its headquarters from Massachusetts to Tennessee in the wake of strict Massachusetts gun legislation.

Ohio lawmakers, the NAACP and a grassroots group have filed a lawsuit to overturn the state's "stand your ground" law, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law in January. 

"About 77 percent of reported homicides in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest share ever reported," says the New York Times.

The Pen is Mighty ...

You’ve let us know you want to be heard through letters to the editor. We have links in this issue to recent news stories you might want to address. It’s very important to be both fast and accurate; beyond a week after publication, your chances of having your letter published plummet.

 It is also important to respect each publication’s desire for exclusivity; DO NOT send the same letter, or very similar ones, to multiple outlets at the same time. But if your letter doesn’t run after a week, if there’s another story that you can hook it to, you’re free to use the content. (That’s also the case when you submit op-eds.) 

Letters to the editor should be 150 to 250 words, depending on the publication.Check out these guidelines from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. Follow their requirements for letter writers, and please do so exactly! They will ask you for your address, but that’s to verify your identity, not for publication. Good luck! 

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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