SALT LAKE CITY — About 75 people rallied Saturday at the Utah Capitol in support of proposed gun legislation, focusing on how mass shootings at schools and other public sites are creating fear in the current generation of students.
Katie Kern said she was growing up in New York when the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened in Connecticut in 2012.
“I was 9 years old when the shooting happened. Overhearing the news that 5 year olds were being shot with guns that were easily accessible shocked me,” Kern recalled during the rally. “And eight years later, nothing has changed.”
She said she grew up with the fear of getting shot, and performing active shooter drills in school.
“The sound of a fire alarm, a slamming locker, a voice in a hallway, things that all should be routine, even boring, inspire fear in students across the country,” according to Kern.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. We are tired of politicians determining our right to safety, we are tired of seeing lives taken from gun violence, we are tired of being scared at school, at the grocery store, at the movie theater and in our own homes,” Kern said.
The rally — which fell on the day after the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — began with teens from the Utah Youth Theatre Conservatory performing a song called “We Will March,” which was written by the group and decries the National Rifle Association.
March for Our Lives and the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah organized the event.
Posters were displayed inside the Capitol Rotunda on which event organizers had graded each lawmaker on their efforts to implement gun control legislation.
Speakers focused on a red flag law for Utah, HB229, sponsored for the third time by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, that would allow family members or those close to one deemed at risk to request their firearms be surrendered to law enforcement. They also spoke in support of a universal background check bill, HB109, sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. The protesters urged supporters to make their voices heard on the issue, as they said they were afraid the bills would languish in committees.
Many at the event said they had a personal connection to gun violence.
Carolyn Tuft, a victim of the 2007 shooting at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square, spoke about losing her daughter, Kirsten Hinckley, to the shooting. Tuft was also shot three times at point-blank range.
“This has torn the lives of our family and friends apart forever. Nobody wants to live this kind of life,” Tuft said, describing how she lost her home and the ability to work due to her injuries.
She believes if a universal background check had been law at the time, as well as a red flag law, the shooting probably wouldn’t have occurred. The 18-year-old who shot the mother and daughter, and killed another four people in the mall that day, had purchased the two guns used in the shooting illegally because he was underage, Tuft noted.
Attendee Chiemi Maloy told the Deseret News she lost a family member to suicide due to an “easily available” gun.
“It was important to me before then, and it will be even more important to me as it keeps happening to more families. But it is personal to my family, and it is something that I did not experience in my high school growing up, in elementary through high school. I wasn’t part of generation lockdown, I didn’t have that same fear,” Maloy explained.
“And seeing how that’s escalated in kids today is not just heartbreaking but infuriating that things are not changing fast enough, and that kids keep going through lockdown and keep going through scared. And I really want that to change,” she said.
Rosemary Lesser said she cares about the issue “as a mother, as a grandmother.”
“I absolutely am here to support legislative efforts to decrease gun violence. I support common sense gun laws that do not abridge the Second Amendment. I mean, everybody knows that we don’t allow some machine guns to be sold. We can do the same thing with assault weapons,” Lesser said.
One of Lesser’s medical school classmates had a daughter who was shot during the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, she said. The young woman pretended to be dead while the gunman walked along the aisle and shot the others near her at point-blank range, Lesser said.
But the woman lived and became a physician, treating people injured from gun violence, according to Lesser.
“So that personal story was what attracted me to this movement, but unfortunately it happens over and over again, and we just need to do something about it,” she said.