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Parents of Aurora shooting victim work to prevent gun violence

24-year-old Jessica Ghawi was one of 12 victims in movie theater shooting

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The parents of a 24-year-old woman who escaped a mass shooting in Toronto in 2012, only to be killed a month later in the Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado, were interviewed by KESQ and CBS Local 2 in Palm Springs on Thursday as they work to prevent gun violence in the United States.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips say they don't want another parent to go through what they did when they lost their daughter Jessica Ghawi, but parents have joined their ranks and will continue to do so unless gun laws are toughened. 

That's why they've sold everything to travel around the country sharing Jessi's message.

The Phillips' reached out to our newsroom after seeing our special series, #GUNSandtheCV, which featured information about registering for a gun, protecting your children from guns, illegal gun modifications and a split-decision training simulator officers go through in Riverside County to take down suspects through nonlethal methods.

The Phillips' daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the senseless violence at the Century 16 movie theater during the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20, 2012.

The pair, gun owners themselves, said they sold all of their belongings after the theater shooter's trial and started traveling the country to try and prevent gun violence.

The couple have lobbied for stricter gun laws and universal background checks. They also believe that people shouldn't be allowed to buy unlimited amounts of ammunition online without even having to show a driver's license.

Sandy Phillips cherishes the photos still on her daughter's Facebook page.

"She's laughing, smiling, making faces, celebrating life to the fullest and to know that that spirit was taken because somebody was allowed to buy 4,000 rounds of ammo without even giving an ID, without being required to show a driver's license. There is not a day that goes by that you wish you knew more before that date and had taken action," said Phillips. 

Ghawi was 24 years old when she witnessed a mass shooting at a mall in Toronto.

"It affected her tremendously," said Jessica's father Lonnie Phillips.

The aspiring sports broadcaster began living her life to the fullest, not knowing how little time she had left.

"Then six weeks later she was in Aurora watching a Batman movie," said Phillips. 

Jessica along with 11 others were killed, 70 people were also wounded.

"Difficult is an understatement, it's something we never ever thought would happen to us. Our daughter was going to a movie," said Phillips.

While the shooter spends the rest of his life behind bars, her parents are cooping the only way they know how. 

"The only thing that keeps me going is to fight against the NRA, it's the most horrendous organization in this country," said Phillips.

 "Actually more than 40 percent of guns sold in America don't require a background check, it's either a private sale or a gun show loophole or an internet sale," said Sandy Phillips.

The Phillipses say the problem is every state has different rules for buying a gun. 

"A college student can go to Florida and buy five guns in Florida There is no limit on how many he can buy in a day and he can run up to Chicago and sell them for $1,500 and sell them to anybody without asking them for their license. That's why there's so many guns in Chicago," said Lonnie Phillips. 

Gun owners themselves, the Phillipses said they don't want to take away guns, just to check who people are selling them too.

"Lets just have a national law that says everybody that buys a gun no matter what, you have to go down like you would a car and transfer the title very simple. it would save thousands of lives," said Lonnie Phillips.

"It's going to dry up the trafficking, it's going to dry up people buying guns out of the back seat of the car," said Sandy Phillips.

Jessica's parents say their biggest regret was not doing something sooner.

"I remember when Columbine happened and my kids were little and I said somebody has to do something and I didn't realize I was that somebody, just like your viewers, they are that somebody," said Sandy Phillips. "You don't want to walk in our shoes and find out too late that you didn't take action and make a difference."

To learn more about Jessi's message click here.


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