UNDER THE GUN
Sandy Phillips: From Tourism Sales Executive to Gun Violence Prevention Activist
After a night that forever changed her career—or ended it, one could say—longtime tourism marketing executive Sandy Anglin Philips has become a latter day version of an itinerant preacher who, after a great awakening, has taken to the road with nothing but a mode of transportation and faith in her message. About that night:
“One bullet tore through her leg and entered into the other leg making it impossible to escape. Three more ripped through her abdomen. One hit her clavicle and shattered it. And one exploded through her left eye leaving a five-inch hole that blew her brains onto the theater seats, floor, and people. I live with that image every day of my life.”
This was the blunt, unvarnished description given by Phillips, who served as national tourism sales manager for the San Antonio CVB for over three years and then became executive director of Texas Hill County Trail, to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on March 23 describing the death of her 24–year-old daughter, Jessi, in a hail of bullets on the night of July 20, 2012 during a mass murder at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were killed and 70 were injured by a sole gunman.
The blunt message of Phillips on that was directed at Senators who were considering the nomination of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch’s opinions and rulings are contrary to what Phillips believes.
Back to that night that unalterably changed her life. Phillips got the call about what happened to her daughter, a promising local televisions sportscaster and blogger, from her boyfriend, Brent, who was also shot. “I asked if Jessi was okay, and he said: ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Oh please, Brent, is she okay? Tell me she’s not dead.’ And he said again, ‘I’m sorry, I tried.’ At that point, I started screaming. I woke my husband up. He came out as I was sliding down the wall and grabbed me. I told him that Jessi was dead.”
“It was 5 in the morning, daybreak was just happening, and there was a very soft light coming in through the living room. I was curled up on the couch, and Lonnie, my husband, was standing at the door looking out and remembering Jessi at the patio table with her boyfriend just a few weeks before. In that moment, I spoke up and said: ‘You know we are going to get involved in this, right?’ And he knew exactly what I meant. And he said, ‘I know.’ And we did.”
Not long thereafter, Sandy and Lonnie sold their property, save for their RV /home and began traveling the country as a professional speaker about gun violence prevention. Appearing before groups of all kinds speaking, proselytizing, testifying at various hearings at all levels of government and pleading for sane government policies on the sale and use of firearms and ammunition is now her life’s purpose. For a while, she and her husband were allied with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“We have been doing this ever since. We live on very little. We live out of our camper,” Phillips told an interviewer last September. “We fortunately have good friends across the nation, and sometimes, we are able to leave the camper behind and stay with them. But this is our life. We’re nomads for gun sense.”
Financially, the nomadic journey of Sandy and Lonni has had its ups and downs—mostly downs. They filed a lawsuit against the online company that sold ammunition to the killer of their daughter and others. They had the help of attorneys who represented them pro bono. But they lost their lawsuit, and were then ordered to pay the company $203,000 in fees.
Episodes such as this and personal bankruptcy require that Phillips and her husband live off monetary contributions and other forms of help—not the financial plan of someone approaching what is normally retirement age. But Phillips is not deterred. She has a message to deliver and will continue to deliver it for as long as she is physically able to do so.
Recently, the Phillips were interviewed for the new Katie Couric documentary, “Under the Gun” which examines why there was no change in gun laws a string of senseless shootings including the Aurora movie theatre and Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It aired on Epix this past May 15th.
(Note: Sources for this article included Refinery29.com and Slate.com)