Since I was shot in 2011, I’ve dedicated my life to the fight to end gun violence. It’s a difficult road — one full of tragedy, heartbreak, and setbacks. But there are also victories that are equally important to recognize, reflect on, and learn from.
The state of Colorado has been home to far too many mass shootings: Columbine in 1999, the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting in 2019, the Boulder King Soopers shooting in 2021, and the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs in 2022 all come to mind. But the toll of gun violence stretches far beyond mass shootings, encompassing community violence, firearm suicide, domestic violence, and unintentional shootings.
Perhaps in part because Coloradans understand the pain of gun violence firsthand, the state has become a leader in gun safety legislation. In 2013, Colorado passed a universal background check law, closing dangerous loopholes that allow individuals to obtain guns through private sales and gun shows.
In 2019, Colorado passed an extreme risk protection order, or “red flag” law, which allows courts to temporarily remove access to guns from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. At the time the law was passed, a number of Colorado sheriffs expressed their opposition, worried that it would infringe on gun rights. Now many of these sheriffs are putting that law to use to protect the public.
And this year, there were an astounding four gun safety bills that became law, including the Jessi Redfield Ghawi Act for Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice and Firearms Industry Accountability, also known as “Jessi’s Law.” Jessi’s Law repealed the state’s extreme gun industry immunity law — a law that bankrupted my friends, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips.
Sandy and Lonnie lost their daughter Jessi in the Aurora theater shooting 11 years ago. They later sued four gun and ammunition companies. They weren’t seeking compensation, only improved safety practices.
When they lost the lawsuit, they were ordered to pay more than $200,000 for the defendants’ legal fees because of a cruel Colorado law, which forced them to file for bankruptcy. Two devastated parents still mourning the brutal murder of their daughter lost everything they had all because they dared to use our court system to try to prevent future horrific mass shootings.
We know that the fight to end gun violence is long, and that progress is often incremental. Sandy and Lonnie know that better than most. For years, they and other concerned citizens in Colorado advocated for the repeal of Colorado’s gun industry immunity law. This coalition included members of GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety like Peter Gurfein and young people like Lucy Sarkissian, a survivor of the STEM shooting who channeled outrage into action by becoming an activist.
Peter and other responsible gun owners understand that repealing industry immunity doesn’t restrict gun rights or access. Rather, it increases corporate accountability, industry responsibility, and victims’ access to justice in the courts.
While progress may be slow, we can never forget that we are winning this fight and creating a safer future for the next generation. The passage of Jessi’s Law proves that.
Jessi’s Law goes further than simply repealing Colorado’s punitive, extreme anti-victim law. It ensures that firearms industry members can be sued just like any other company when they break the law.
As we acknowledge 11 years since the Aurora shooting, on July 20, my heart is with Sandy, Lonnie, and all those impacted by the tragedy. Despite the loss of their daughter and their livelihood, Sandy and Lonnie refused to back down and continued to fight for commonsense gun safety measures.
It’s thanks to their hard work, and the hard work of advocates across Colorado, that families can have their day in court. It’s thanks to them that Jessi’s legacy lives on. GIFFORDS will make sure other states learn from Colorado’s lessons.
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords founded the gun violence prevention organization GIFFORDS after she was shot at a constituent event in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011. The gunman killed six people and injured 12 others.
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