On January 8, more than 15 gun violence survivors joined us to mark the eight-year anniversary of the Tucson shooting in which six people died and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was injured, and to preview the announcement of H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act.
“I’m still fighting to make the world a better place.”
“It’s been a long, hard haul but I’m getting better,” said Congresswoman Giffords. “I’m still fighting to make the world a better place.”
In a breakfast honoring their activism and courage in the fight to prevent gun violence, these survivors shared their stories. Shaundelle Brooks lost her son, Akilah DaSilva, in the 2018 Waffle House shooting. Marc Orfanos’s son Telemachus survived the Las Vegas massacre, the worst mass shooting in modern American history, only to be shot and killed at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks just over a year later. Ashley Baez was a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas when she was shot in the leg—which didn’t keep her from attending the March for Our Lives organized by her classmates weeks later.
“This is not the way America should be,” said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. At the breakfast, these survivors discussed their frustration with the failure of past Congresses to address our nation’s gun violence epidemic and expressed hope that H.R. 8 signifies that the new gun safety majority in the House of Representatives is ready to take action.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act Closes Dangerous Loopholes
H.R. 8 would require a background check on every gun sale or transfer, closing existing loopholes that allow individuals to purchase guns through private sales, online, and at gun shows without undergoing a background check.
Nancy Bowman, a nurse who tended to the wounded victims of the Tucson shooting before paramedics arrived, spoke about her experience with documentary producers who thought it was a myth that people could buy guns without passing a background check. She took them to a gun show in Tucson to show them just how easy it was.
Since the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in the 1990s, background checks have stopped three million firearm sales. But loopholes in current federal law make it far too easy for dangerous individuals to legally purchase a gun—up to 80% of firearms used for criminal purposes are obtained without a background check.
Americans Demand an End to Federal Inaction on Gun Violence
Greg Jackson was shot in DC five years ago while working as a community organizer. “It really has been challenging to see Congress not take action when so much is happening not just in their district, but in their backyard,” Greg said. Even if a particular city or state has strong gun laws, Greg pointed out, guns are trafficked in from neighboring states with weak gun laws. The only way to solve this problem is to enact strong gun safety laws at the federal level.
“Successful legislative change follows cultural change.”
“Successful legislative change follows cultural change,” said Emily Nottingham, whose son Gabe was working as Community Outreach Director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when he was shot and killed. “I think there are real indicators of cultural change,” Emily said.
Sandy Phillips and her husband Lonnie have worked as gun safety advocates since their daughter was murdered in 2012. The pair has traveled to the sites of ten mass shootings to provide support to survivors, and frequently visit Capitol Hill to speak with their elected representatives about the importance of gun safety. “I think they realize now that we’re not going away, and they can count on us showing up over and over and over again,” Sandy said.
Cause for Hope: A New Gun Safety Majority in the House
Chicago native Tre Bosley lost his brother to gun violence in 2006, when Tre was seven years old. Tre has been protesting and demonstrating for years, and has been to DC five times since his brother’s death.
Many Americans became numb to statistics about the daily toll of gun violence in urban centers like Chicago, Tre said, “but I think over the past year, with March for Our Lives, and traveling and talking to more and more people, I think people are truly understanding that these are more than just numbers. These are really people’s children, and these are lives that have been lost to gun violence.”
Two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Megan McGuire’s high school had a false alarm. When Megan expressed fear to her dad, he told her not to worry—nothing like that would ever happen in Santa Fe. Less than three months later, ten people were killed and 13 were wounded at a shooting at Megan’s high school.
These courageous survivors are committed to advocating for gun safety, both in their communities and on Capitol Hill. The introduction of H.R. 8 is an important step in this direction. “It makes me feel really hopeful that change will eventually happen,” Megan said.