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Opinion: Trolley Square victim’s sister speaks out on gun legislation

For the past 15 years, I have been in a permanent state of grief. I do not want your thoughts or prayers, lawmakers — I want your action. I want your anger

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A photo of Trolley Square shooting victim Kirsten Hinckley lays on a table at Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City.

A photo of Trolley Square shooting victim Kirstin Hinckley lays on a table at Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City on the anniversary of the shooting that claimed the lives of six people and wounded four others.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

A few weeks ago, I sat on the lawn of the cemetery where my sister Kirsten remains, the same place I’ve spent the last 15 Memorial Days. I sat there holding my nephew’s hand — who will never know his aunt — and thought about the families of the 21 victims in Uvalde, Texas, holding the funerals of their children and loved ones.

They are on a journey that unfortunately never ends. On Feb. 12, 2007, my sister Kirsten and I were supposed to go with my mother for a mother-daughter Valentine’s Day activity. Instead, I received a call from work and needed to go in. My mom and sister dropped me off, and the two of them drove to Trolley Square Mall. It was the last time I saw Kirsten alive.

As soon as my mother and sister walked into the mall, they heard a “pop pop.” My mom dismissed the idea that it was gunfire. They headed to a store where my sister was looking at a picture on a gum packet that she told my mom I would love.

Soon, another “pop.”

My mom went to see what was happening. There was a bright flash, a loud bang and shattered glass was falling on her. My mom was shot twice that day and survived, and my sister was killed. From the time they parked the car to the time Kirsten was dead was only three minutes.

Kirsten’s death changed my entire life. But it’s also not the whole story; the damage of gun violence doesn’t end there. My mom survived, but we lost everything. She couldn’t work and lost her business. The monthlong stay at the hospital and the countless experimental surgeries trying to figure out how to heal physically and mentally drained all her life savings.

She came home from the hospital with no daughter, no money and no livelihood. Meanwhile, I was robbed of my childhood. I had to drop out of school to take care of my mom.

For the past 15 years, I have been in a permanent state of grief. I see these families in Buffalo and Uvalde beginning this journey right now. I’m devastated knowing what’s in store for them.

These families will watch as their child’s friends age, grow and change, and their child will stay frozen in time. They will watch these friends hit milestones, and their hearts will break all over again. And what’s worse? You will slowly start to forget the particular way their voice inflected as they said your name, or the sound of their laugh, or the way their body felt as they hugged you goodbye for the last time.

After Kirsten’s death, I came to Washington, D.C., and asked lawmakers to make changes. I came again at least seven other times throughout the years, unable to fathom that change still hasn’t happened.

There’s an entire generation of children growing up without ever feeling safe in their own lives.

Our children have been sentenced to a life of constant worry. They worry about whether they will survive the day at school, safely go to a movie or concert, or buy groceries with their mom.

I do not want your thoughts or prayers, lawmakers — I want your action. I want your anger. I want you to go home and look at your loved ones, your children, your grandchildren, and imagine this life without them. Then I want your promise that you will do everything in your power to prevent this from happening.

Thankfully, we’re starting to see that. Sen. Mitt Romney joined a bipartisan group of 20 senators who have released a framework for gun safety and mental health legislation that would take the first step toward making sure no other family has to feel the way my family has felt losing my sister. Enhanced background checks for buyers under 21, supporting and incentivizing red flag laws across the country, and other measures can prevent gun violence and save lives.

I’m grateful to Romney for his leadership and for standing up and doing the right thing. Now we have to turn that framework into law.

If you want to see an end to this disgusting gun violence in our state and country, then call Romney, thank him, and urge him to make sure that this lifesaving framework becomes law as soon as possible.

Kait Hinckley is a Utah native and gun violence survivor whose sister, Kirsten, was killed on Feb. 12, 2007, at Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, and is a volunteer with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action.