Survivors Speak!                  April 2022
Progress and More Pain

April has been a month of travel — miles flown and driven — and at least some progress in gun violence reforms  and the recognition of our national gun violence plague (exacerbated by another public health crisis, COVID).

But progress has been punctuated by more explosions of violence. It was also marked by a grim revelation that doesn’t surprise us, but makes us angry, sad and even more committed to the work we do. For the first time,
children’s number one cause of death in America is gun violence, overtaking automobile accidents. The rise between 2019 and 2020 was nearly 30 percent. We write about the data in this issue.

People are upset, afraid and demanding answers. Some responses are coming. We were at the White House for the President’s ghost gun announcement, and applauded it. Read our story, below. We’re glad to see the new appointment of Steve Dettelbach as the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, though the confirmation has yet to occur. In the meantime, there’s a new acting director. These are steps in the right direction, but we know how long the way ahead is, and truth be told we still sting at the failure of the David Chipman nomination. 

Mayor Eric Adams in New York, shortly after the subway shooting that took place this month, spoke out forcefully for the urgent need to enact new gun legislation. At the same time, subway crime continues to rise precipitously. (This takes place while the Supreme Court has on its docket a case that could stop New York from prohibiting concealed carry.)

We profile Rhonda Hart in this issue. We share a very particular and terrible bond. Her daughter was killed in Santa Fe, Texas, with bullets sold by Lucky Gunner, the same company that was responsible for selling the ammunition used to take the life of  our daughter, Jessi, in Colorado nearly 10 years ago. Rhonda is using her pain to be a warrior for change.

We’re on the road again, and as this month ends, we are thrilled to be in Atlanta for another Honor with Action tour stop. We thank Cassandra Green and WOWW Ministries for including us as part of a dynamic panel addressing gun violence and bringing together many survivors. Check out the flier below!

Our wheels will turn toward Baltimore for a May event that we’re co-sponsoring, Centering Victims: Honoring Lived Experience in Gun Violence Policy. 

And speaking of coming events: we are so grateful that our dear friend Jackson Browne is dedicating proceeds of his September 25 concert at Red Rock, Colorado, to Survivors Empowered! We are also grateful for the great generosity that helped make Sandy’s April 15 birthday sweet, with $7,200 going to Survivors Empowered through Facebook donations. Thank you!

In between all our stops, we make time for meditation, and we are very glad to be participating in this spring’s class and study with the Center for Mindfulness at the University of California, San Diego. See Denver7's video about the program. We’ll write more soon.

Stay well and stay strong, 

Sandy and Lonnie

Activated by Horrible Loss, a Mother Fights Forward

On May 18, 2018, 14-year-old Kimberly Vaughan (right) was fatally shot four times in the back during a mass shooting that took the lives of eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in Texas.  
Her mother, Rhonda Hart, describes her daughter as a “really awesome” girl who loved learning sign language, cats and reading, and was about to earn a gold medal in scouting. 

Within 24 hours of the massacre, Rhonda began to point her grief and rage toward activism. She tweeted, she talked, she joined forces with other survivors, she marched — and she hasn’t stopped since.  

Read more here

President Takes Action on 'Ghost' Guns

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter was killed at the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting, were at the White House on April 11 to witness an important move forward in the work against gun violence.

The Phillipses, who founded the nonprofit Survivors Empowered, thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for their continued efforts to stop the proliferation of illegal firearms and cut gun violence. 

At the Rose Garden press conference the Phillipses attended, President Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a final rule on the manufacturing and sale of unserialized firearm kits, commonly known as ghost guns.

The DOJ final rule bans the manufacturing of the most accessible ghost guns, including unserialized “buy build shoot” kits that can be purchased online or at a store without a background check. The rule clarifies that these kits qualify as “firearms” under the 1968 Gun Control Act; therefore, commercial manufacturers of these kits must be licensed firearm dealers and run background checks on purchasers before a sale. Furthermore, the kits must include serial numbers on the frame or receiver.

Additionally, President Biden nominated former Ohio U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “The ATF needs a strong director who will stand up for common sense rules,” said Lonnie. 

Read more here

Firearms Now Leading Cause of Death for Children, Teens

Injuries from firearms replaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers 19 years old and younger, according to an analysis of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.
Gun deaths for children and adolescents, including homicides, suicides and accidental shootings, rose by 29 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the research, with more than 4,300 people 19 and younger dying from firearms in 2020.
“The increasing rates of firearm mortality are a longer-term trend and demonstrate that we continue to fail to protect our youngest population from a preventable cause of death,” said Jason Goldstick, research associate professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine and of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health.
Goldstick and his colleagues, Patrick Carter and Rebecca Cunningham, also determined that more than 45,000 people in U.S. died from firearms in 2020, an increase of 13 percent from 2019.
Homicides from firearms drove the increase, they said, spiking by more than 33 percent in 2020. Gun-related suicides also increased, by 1 percent, according to the analysis.
“Firearm violence is one of the most critical challenges facing our society, and based on the latest federal data, this crisis is growing more and more intense,” said Cunningham, University of Michigan’s vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.

In Atlanta!

Stop The Violence Forum, with Cassandra Greene
Saturday, April 30 • 2 pm • 5595 Riverdale Rd., College Park, Georgia

Free Event. (770) 899-7424 for more info.

Stop the Violence Forum

Calling All Artists!

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

Want to feel part of the action as we travel the country?
We've got some 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 will give out pens and notepads as complimentary "swag" at our upcoming stops. On February 19, in partnership with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, we launched our tour!

What Survivors Are Saying
“I feel like he’s really not gone. I feel like I should go over there, go give him a hug, or sometimes I go around looking for him." Ciara Lopez. whose friend, De’mari Jackson, had his life taken after shielding her from a gunshot

“It was the longest thirty seconds of my absolute life." Kenneth Foote-Smith, who survived the April 12 shooting at a New York City subway station

“Being there, laying under the table with this gun to my head couldn’t be anything but hate.” Polly Sheppard, who survived the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and is advocating for a state hate-crimes law

“There are things that went perfectly to set up me being here right now. Had the shotgun been aimed a fraction of an inch to the left or right, I wouldn’t be here." Logan Cole, who survived a shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School in Ohio and is preparing to graduate from college

“We’re not letting hate close our doors, ever,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life Synagogue, which is the subject of a documentary, "Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life," that chronicles how a shooting there united people in Pittsburgh
In the News
USA Today writes about the national trend of escalating gun violence, and examines where young people are getting guns. They report that "Across the U.S., more kids are getting their hands on guns and using them in an escalating number of murders, suicides and accidental shootings, experts and data say."

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that St. Louis city and county and Jackson County can continue their lawsuit challenging a state law declaring that certain federal gun provisions are invalid and penalize people who enforce the laws. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation allowing people to carry guns in public without a license or background check. 

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Mahoney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is requesting more information on gun dealers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as the committee investigates gun violence. 

An Alabama mother successfully pushed to have a street named for her son, whose life was taken by gun violence. 
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 at
  • 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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