SALT LAKE CITY — A rainy morning in Salt Lake City didn't stop a large crowd from gathering in the Utah State Capitol to honor those who have died while serving in the military.
Both Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney — the featured speakers during a Memorial Day gathering held by the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs — told those gathered in the Capitol that they like rainy days, with Cox adding the state is still in a drought. Those in attendance also included Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Major Gen. Michael Turley, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard.
Remembering the fallen
Romney said rain or shine, Utahns are lucky to call the state home, saying the many freedoms afforded to Utahns are thanks to those who have served the country in the military.
"This bounty of life is ours thanks to the men and women who won our freedom, who protect us from oppressors, and who defend our nation from threats here and abroad," Romney said. "Too often these defenders have done so at an unimaginable cost. For while we enjoy all the glory of life here in Utah, some of them will never do so again."
Romney referenced the 13 American soldiers killed in a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the military’s withdrawal from the country last August. The attack also left more than 160 Afghans dead. Romney said those in uniform exchanged their lives for the people of Afghanistan.
"Each of these 13 individuals lost is a reminder that every person in our military and every veteran has placed his or her life on the altar of freedom, not knowing which will be taken and which will be spared," Romney said.
Among those soldiers killed was Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was a resident of Sandy. Romney and Cox mentioned Hoover and Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Paul Lincoln Olmstead, of West Valley City, who was died in September during a training exercise in Kentucky, as two Utahns who had recently lost their lives in service of their country.
Cox said during his speech that most people associate Memorial Day with barbeques and being with friends and loved ones, but the rainy weather allows people to bring the holiday back into focus.
"I think a day like today helps us to really step back and remember what this is all about," Cox said. He said that the Capitol event is just one of the many events behind held around the state Monday in remembrance of those who lost their lives while serving.
Addressing gun laws in America
Following the event, both Cox and Romney were asked about the Uvalde, Texas, shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. Romney said Monday that the entire nation is mourning the Texas killings, a tragedy he said makes no sense at all.
"I do believe there's a recognition that we've got to do something. We've got to find some answers, make sure that we, of course, protect people's constitutional rights, but at the same time make sure that we're protecting our children," Romney said.
Romney said that Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are leading the efforts in Washington to address gun violence, and that he was unsure of their progress but would have a better idea about it when he returns to Washington. Romney expressed his support for safeguards like background checks as a way to curb gun violence in America.
"I think we can expand background checks and make our system more effective," Romney said. "I also think the ‘red flag’ laws can be effective if people understand how they work and put them in place, and so those are two things which I think will be discussed at the federal level."
Cox said the issue needs to be examined and evaluated at the state level, saying there are many aspects that need to be discussed as part of how lawmakers address gun violence.
"It's not all about guns, but it is some about those," Cox said. "It's not all about mental health, but it's definitely some about mental health. It's not all about culture, but it's something about culture. And so, we have to be willing to have those conversations."
Cox added that he met with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams recently to start those talks on how the state can address these issues. Cox emphasized the need for all angles of the issue to be discussed, saying the state needs to find a smart way to protect lives while protecting people's freedoms.
"I wouldn't trust anyone who says it's only about guns, but I also wouldn't trust anyone who said it's not about guns at all," Cox said. He declined to comment on any specific pieces of legislation.