Sandy Phillips & Devin Hughes
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.
We know the solution is stronger gun laws, but our safety has been held hostage by the gun lobby. We are paying the price in lives. I am co-writing this op ed with Devin Hughes because his organization, GVPedia, a gun violence prevention non-profit, conducted research that found that US states with more guns and weaker gun laws have consistently higher gun death rates; these states had 50% more fatalities from mass shootings. I believe in creating public policy based on data and I hope others will join me in that belief.
If guns made us safer, America would be the safest country in the world. Yet among high-income countries similar to the US, our gun homicide and suicide rates are the highest.
From 2014–2021, mass shootings in which four or more people are shot increased 154% according to the Gun Violence Archive. Uvalde was the 212th mass shooting this year. Texas has been hit particularly hard by mass shootings, with three of the five deadliest mass shootings since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 occuring in the state.
As gun sales surged during the COVID pandemic, so did gun deaths, reaching more than 45,000 in 2020. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in America. If this was happening in another country, we’d consider it too dangerous to visit and yet, it’s happening right here in our backyards and far too many politicians are doing nothing to fix it. This spiral of death is only growing worse.
The gun lobby’s decades-long disinformation campaign would have us believe that even more guns are the answer. The myth that gun-free zones are magnets for shooters is based on pseudo-research with massive data holes from discredited sources. On the evening my daughter was murdered in Aurora, several people carrying concealed handguns were in the theater. In the dark chaos, they could not shoot at the killer without risking shooting other people.
Further, the majority of modern academic research on weakening concealed carry laws — which allow even more loaded firearms in public — find that such laws increase violent crime. Nationwide, permitless carry laws, the kind of law Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed just last year, increase gun homicides by 22% in the three years after they are enacted.
In 2019, I returned to Denver — only miles away from where my daughter was killed — to attend GVPedia’s national conference. At that conference, we helped to draft the Denver Accord, a comprehensive roadmap to reduce all gun violence. The roadmap includes proven, evidence-based policies, including Permit-to-Purchase laws, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, strong Child Access Prevention laws, and regulating assault weapons. The Denver Accord also calls for the repeal of the law that provides the gun industry immunity, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The laws and policies detailed in the Denver Accord provide a comprehensive solution to end gun violence.
We have a clear roadmap detailing the actions we need to take and we must do so now. Over the past few days, I have talked to so many people who are desperate to take action but don’t know what to do in a deadlocked Congress. So I ask you to call your representatives in Congress and share with them the Denver Accord. Tell them that you can’t stand by anymore and watch lives needlessly taken by gun violence. Tell them that we need comprehensive action now.
Become involved in your local gun violence prevention organizations. Educate yourselves and others on the facts about firearm policy to break through the gun lobby’s disinformation efforts. Help change the “guns-everywhere” culture that contributes to tens of thousands of gun deaths every year. Be part of the solution to create a culture centered on responsibility and safety.
We can’t restore the lives already lost to our gun violence epidemic, but we can change the future with your help.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips founded Survivors Empowered after their daughter, Jessi Ghawi, and eleven others were slaughtered in the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012. Survivors Empowered provides support and trauma therapist referrals for survivors of gun violence through their website and free, online Survivors Toolkit.
Devin Hughes is the President and Founder of GVPedia, a non-profit that provides access to gun violence prevention research and data.