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She lost her daughter in a mass shooting. Here's what she will tell parents in Uvalde

Lonny and Sandy Phillips attend a showing of the film "Under The Gun" at Victoria Theatre on April 27, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Steve Jennings
Getty Images
Lonny and Sandy Phillips attend a showing of the film "Under The Gun" at Victoria Theatre on April 27, 2016 in San Francisco, California.

Updated May 25, 2022 at 1:31 PM ET

Sandy Phillips has spent the past 10 years advocating for gun control, after her daughter Jessi was killed in the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

Phillips and her husband filed a lawsuit against the gun dealer, but it was dismissed becausea federal law (the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act) shields gun manufacturers and dealers from liabilty.

They were ordered to pay the dealer's legal costs, too. So they sold their house and moved into an RV, which they use to travel between mass shootings. Phillips has kept in touch with Morning Edition through the years, and co-host Steve Inskeep spoke with her on Wednesday as she prepares to travel from Buffalo, N.Y., to Uvalde, Texas.

What does she plan to tell grieving family members there? Phillips says her message will be blunt, but delivered with love.

"They want to die right now. They don't want to take another breath. And when we go in and we actually meet with these people, we let them know that we felt the same way," she says. "I tell them that if I'd had a gun in the house, I probably would not be here today.

"But ... we did survive, and we did find joy again. And we still miss our daughter and always will. And our lives will never be the same, and neither will theirs."

Phillips notes there's been little progress in gun control reform in the decade since she lost her daughter — despite data indicating there have been 400,000 gun deaths in the United States in that time. Considering the family members of those victims, she estimates thats more than 1.6 million Americans have been directly affected by gun violence since 2012.

"I want to say it's unbelievable, but it's not," she says of the Uvalde tragedy. "It's predictable. And it's preventable."

Victory, to Phillips, would mean a repeal of PLCAA, a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, strong national gun laws and a Cabinet-level office for gun violence prevention.

So what keeps her fighting? It's simple, she says: her daughter.

"Jessi was a kindhearted person and always the one to comfort someone when they were in any kind of trouble, so we've just continued that on to honor her, and to give us a sense of purpose in this world," she says. "And I have to believe we're going to be victorious, that this cannot be the way and the road that our country takes."

The audio interview was produced by Ziad Buchh and edited by Jacob Conrad.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.