Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, Leader in the Gun Violence Survivors Movement, Applaud Colorado’s New Law Repealing Gun Industry Immunity
DENVER, Colo, April 28, 2023 —Today, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of Jessica Redfield Ghawi, one of twelve people fatally shot in the Aurora Theater massacre of 2012, were with Colorado Governor Polis to witness the signing of the Jessica Redfield Ghawi Act which repeals Colorado’s immunity protections for the firearm industry.
“At last,” said Sandy Phillips, “people in Colorado will be able to have some justice - and we are deeply touched to have Jessi’s name associated with this advance.”
Lonnie Phillips added, “Now lawsuits against the gun industry in Colorado will stop some of the terrible practices that have allowed firearm dealers to sell guns and ammo to killers and get away with it. We thank Governor Polis, Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Senator Tom Sullivan, Senator Rhonda Fields, Representative Mabrey, Representative Parenti, and the Colorado legislators who drove this bill forward, and recognize as well as the tireless efforts of the Giffords organization, Colorado Ceasefire, and Moms Demand Colorado.”
Colorado Senate Bill 168 allows a person or entity that has been harmed as a result of a violation of standards by a firearm manufacturer, retail seller, wholesale seller, importer, marketer, or distributor to bring a lawsuit under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.
Sandy Phillips said, “Lawsuits–the ability to hold corporations accountable and to require common sense safety measures–have saved lives. Safer cars, better marketing strategies, and safer tools are all examples of more consumer protection because of legal action.” Lonnie Phillips added, “It’s too late for our Jessi and the others who were killed and injured that night but this law will help change the way guns are sold in Colorado and reduce gun violence.”
The Phillipses personal history is an object lesson in why this legislation was needed. In 2000, shortly after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the Colorado legislature gave the firearm industry a “gift;” some of the strongest civil protections in the country. The law required plaintiffs to pay defendants' legal fees if a case was dismissed and set narrow rules for the ability to bring a lawsuit.
After the fatal shooting of Jessi, the Phillipses, represented by lawyers from the Brady Campaign, brought a lawsuit against Lucky Gunner, the arms dealer who sold the 4,000 rounds of ammunition used to kill their daughter that fatal night in July of 2012.
The effect of Colorado’s 2000 gun industry immunity law was to stymie their lawsuit, and cause the judge in their case to impose attorney fees. They were ordered to pay $263,000 to the arms dealer, Lucky Gunner, that recklessly sold the bullets that killed their own daughter. The financial burden forced the Phillipses into bankruptcy and they lost their home.
Had Lucky Gunner been stopped in Colorado, another tragedy might have been averted. Lucky Gunner went on to sell the ammunition used in a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas. The Santa Fe families brought suit against Lucky Gunner and came to a settlement that required the online seller to have a system to verify the age of the purchaser. The Santa Fe High School shooter was only 17 years old when Lucky Gunner sold him the ammunition for the massacre.
Sandy and Lonnie turned their grief into action by founding Survivors Empowered. Recently, Sandy and Lonnie, working with Giffords, published a Survivors Toolkit. The Phillipses are now laying plans for a survivors retreat in Mexico where survivors of gun violence can learn to manage their symptoms of PTSD and reduce stress.
Summing up today’s legislative action, Sandy Phillips said: “Today corrects a wrong. Now the gun industry and arms dealers must do all they can to ensure that firearms and ammunition are not getting into the hands of people who should never have a gun.”
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Survivors Empowered is an organization founded by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after the slaughter of their daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi and eleven others in the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012. Their original non-profit, Jessi’s Message, has grown into Survivors Empowered - a national organization created By Survivors, For Survivors, Empowering Survivors.