As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and children write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
My daughter Jessi, killed in Aurora, believed each day is a gift
My 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, is no longer a part of the world she brightened. She was one of 12 people killed on July 20, 2012, when a man waged war on theater patrons at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado.
She had discovered her passion and was ready to start a new career in sports journalism that summer. She was always about people who were hurting or were in trouble or having issues. She fought the bullies. She was a very loving, compassionate young woman her whole life.
Shootings are so prevalent in today's world that Jessi had been in the food court of a mall during a mass shooting in Toronto five weeks before she was killed. Five people were shot. One young man died. He was Jessi's age -- 24. She blogged about the experience and its effect on her:
"I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening," she wrote.
"I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given."
I want my daughter's spirit to live on through good works, and I want our society to search its collective soul on the subject of guns. I believe a balance exists between Second Amendment freedoms and the rights of the public to be protected. We must close loopholes and put limits on the types of guns and amount of ammunition that can be sold. By Sandy Phillips
Li'l John could light up a room
Jonathan Jackson Jr. -- or "Li'l John" as we called him -- was 5 years old when we lost him in an unspeakable tragedy. To this day, his father, my husband, cannot speak about the incident that took his namesake away three years ago.
Li'l John was an absolute joy. He knew how to light up a room. He loved to ride his bike and play basketball, and he loved looking at custom cars. He and his identical twin brother were inseparable, and we often found them asleep on top of one another.
He was going to start kindergarten on August 10, 2010. He never made it. The day before, he and his brother were at their mother's home and found a loaded gun near their toys. A teenage relative who was visiting had brought the gun inside. The gun went off, and Lil John was killed.
Getting that news over a cell phone at 10 p.m. seemed unimaginable. My husband and I were in shock. We were full of anger -- not toward our young sons -- but at the utter irresponsibility of allowing a gun in the home where these precious little children played.
The aftermath of this horror has left an emptiness inside his twin brother. Our family has changed. Innocence was lost. There are issues that we prefer not to discuss out loud. The organization Moms Demand Action, which advocates gun control, is one of the reasons I broke my silence.
My stepson is one of so many children this country has lost. We have to do something. We need to turn around a system that allows too many of the wrong people to get guns. Common sense is not as common as we need it to be. By Genetta Jackson
Each morning I think: My sister Mary does not have this day
The nightmare began 116 days ago when I received the horrific phone call that my older sister, Mary Sherlach, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My heart is forever broken, my life and my entire family's life forever changed. One day, one gun, 26 lives lost in four minutes.
My husband called, telling me there had been a shooting. Where? What school? The next few hours are a blur of chaos and trauma. Desperate phone calls back and forth between my family members. The final phone call telling me that we lost her -- I don't know how long I screamed.
Everything that comes after that is even harder. Explaining a mass shooting to your 10-year-old son. Walking into your sister's house and seeing your devastated brother-in-law and nieces. Then standing in a line at a wake for four hours, listening and comforting more than 800 mourners. Touching the small wood box that holds your sister's remains.
Mary was the oldest of the Greene girls. She was smart, she was pretty, she was popular and outgoing. Mary was a born leader. Growing up she gave me lots of advice. Mary had the answers and the solutions. She was born a trouble shooter. As we got older I could always turn to her for help and council.
Mary's gift at counseling placed her at Sandy Hook Elementary as the school psychologist. She referred to helping her children surmount their problems as God's work. She was devoted to her profession. On the morning of 12/14/12, Mary was running a meeting for one of her children. When she heard the shots, she told the others in the room to get back. I believe Mary made a decision to try to talk the shooter down. In death as in life, Mary was selfless and determined.
Every morning I wake up and remember my sister Mary does not have this day. Her husband Bill does not have his wife. Her daughters do not have their mother. I will never see my sister again or be able to turn to her for her wisdom and advice. The loss of a family member is indescribable.
There are so many questions. What if the assault weapon had been banned? What if 30-round magazines were illegal? What if the bullets weren't so destructive? Maybe this could have been prevented, maybe there could have been more time to react, maybe there could have been more survivors.
It's time to address gun violence. It's time to pass laws that will save lives. We as a people must have the will to come together, to demand change and prevent another Newtown. By Jane Dougherty
We need the world to be as good as Christina thought it was