Parents of Colorado theater shooting victim bring gun control message to KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A husband and wife team on a mission to reduce gun violence brought their message to Kansas City on Monday.

They know all too well the horrors of gun violence after their daughter was killed in one of the most infamous mass shootings in our country's history.

On July 20, 2012, their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, and her friend Brent went to a late-night movie in Aurora, Colo.

"I texted her and said are you and Brent still awake? And she said yeah we're at the movies," recalls Ghawi's mother, Sandy Phillips.

From her home in Texas, Phillips then sent Ghawi another text, just days before she was scheduled to visit her.

"She said, 'Go back to bed mom, get some sleep,'" recalled Phillips. "'I can't wait for you to get here on Tuesday. I need my momma.' And I wrote back that I needed my baby girl."

It was the last time the two would talk. Just minutes later, a gunman walked into the theater and opened fire, shooting Ghawi six times. Her life cut short at the age of 24.    

"She was full of life and and curiosity and smart and funny," said Phillips.

Now, Ghawi's parents travel the country hoping to bring some positive out of their daughter's death - fighting for what they call common sense gun control laws.

"We both found out early on where all the loopholes were, which as gun owners we were unaware of," said Phillips.

Ghawi's parents want universal background checks, which they believe would close the the so-called private sale loophole. The loophole allows some Americans to buy firearms online or at gun shows without ever passing a background check.

"So we've got this huge gaping hole that allows felons, domestic abusers, those who should not be able to get a gun, to be able to purchase a gun," said Phillips.

For the first time, Ghawi's parents are bringing their message to Kansas City, with the help of Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman.

"At the states is where we're actually having the most success in terms of trying to pass common sense, reasonable ideas that people actually agree with," said Newman.

Shawnee gun store owner Rebecca Bieker is among those who don't agree.

"If they enact more laws, restricting the rights of everyday citizens to own a firearm, they're going to only hurt the law-abiding citizens," said Bieker. "They're not going to pass a law that is going to take a gun out of the hand of a criminal."

Bieker lost her own husband to gun violence earlier this year, when would-be robbers entered her store called She's A Pistol, knocking her out and killing her husband.
    
"I see what happened every time I walk through the door and I have to live with it every day," said Bieker.

Still, she believes the violence is a mental health and family values problem, not a gun problem.

"I think there is sometimes a mental health side of this for sure, but I also think a lack of education," said Bieker. "I think young people are not understanding that lives matter."

Ghawi's mother has a much different perspective.

"We have the same number of mentally ill in this country, percentage wise as they do in any other country, the difference is the ease of being able to get a gun and use it against your fellow citizens," said Sandy.

Ghawi's parents will continue spreading their message, with the hopes of getting more Americans to believe in it.

"We're going around the country in our camper, making Americans aware of things that we learned the hard way," said Sandy Phillips.

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Justin Wilfon can be reached at justin.wilfon@kshb.com.

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