SALT LAKE CITY — About 100 people, many sporting bright orange, came together in Salt Lake City Saturday afternoon to remember those killed and injured by gun violence and encourage tougher laws to prevent such deaths.
Several with the Utah chapter of Moms Demand Action urged families, teenagers and others in Sugar House Park not to lose hope even if their progress in statehouses and the U.S. Capitol seems slow.
"We are at the tipping point of creating change," said Carolyn Tuft, who survived the Trolley Square Mall shooting in 2007 that claimed six, including her daughter 15-year-old Kirsten Hinckley. "We all want a safer, better place to live. We all want to go out to the parks and to buy valentines, and go to church and send kids to school without running for their lives."
Those in attendance on the sunny afternoon ranged from toddlers munching on orange cotton candy to high school students handing out gun locks to grandparents who listened quietly to Tuft and others. The event was part of a weekend-long push that kicked off on Friday, national Gun Violence Awareness Day.
After frenzied news coverage of a shooting tapers off, Tuft said, the public is left without an understanding of how the violence affects survivors. She is in constant pain as 300 shards of metal in her body leech lead into her blood.
"It's not just the loss of life. It's the loss of dreams and hopes and liveliness," she said.
Before being shot while shopping for valentines with her daughter, Tuft's business was humming, she had four kids, cycled 50 mile a day and would not have attended a rally like Saturday's. She didn't give gun violence any thought, she said, until it devastated her emotionally and financially as she struggled to return to work.
She and other speakers urged people to contact their legislative representatives, calling for stronger requirements for background checks, protective orders that could withhold a person's weapon until a judge determines risk has passed, and other measures they said further prevent suicides, mass shootings and accidental firearm deaths.
Tuft's daughter, Kait Hinckley, said she should have spent Saturday making a coconut cake for her late sister, who would have turned 28 tomorrow. In the years since her sister's death, she noted, gunfire has killed students, moviegoers and others across the country, including a dozen people at a government complex just last week in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"It's not normal that an entire generation of Americans have to grow up with this problem," she said. Shootings that kill one at a time and don't make national headlines also are devastating, Hinckley said.
Lydia Loftus, 15, attended the rally with her family and recalled how 2½ years ago, when she was an eighth grader at Mueller Park Junior High, a classmate brought two guns and ammunition to school and fired one shot into the ceiling. Police said he had stolen the weapons from his parents' safe.
Lydia was removed from the gunfire and in a portable classroom reading frantic texts from her parents when a lockdown was called, but other students were more affected.
A friend of hers had continuous nightmares. Another classmate was too traumatized to return to the school afterward and opted instead to take online classes, she said.
"It could have been so easily prevented and it wasn't," Lydia said. "I think parents should have to lock up their guns."
It's not just the loss of life. It's the loss of dreams and hopes and liveliness.
She now attends Wood Cross High School, where after a recent renovation, classrooms now have gaping windows, she said, a feature she questioned during a recent lockdown drill.
"I just thought it was ridiculous," she said. "We were hiding under a desk in plain sight."
Her father Clark Loftus, a pediatrician in Bountiful, said some teens continue to bring up the subject of the gunfire from more than two years ago during doctor visits.
"People think no one was hurt, so it's OK," he said. "There's still people that are affected by it every day."
Those lasting effects are part of why Lydia's mother, Alissa Loftus, has begun hosting lessons for parents on how to properly store guns and spot signs of mental health issues in family members as part of her work with the anti-violence group Be SMART.
"They shouldn't have to confront gun violence at school," she said.
The Wear Orange group started in Chicago after Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot to death and her friends wore the color to call attention to gun-related deaths.
The Utah affiliate calls for better access to mental health treatment and education for gun owners on how to properly store their weapons, said organizer Mary Ann Thompson, but does not want to infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.
It's not normal that an entire generation of Americans have to grow up with this problem.
Some of the most difficult work supporters will do is internal, noted Ainsley Moench, an executive member of Utah's March for Our Lives group and a senior at Skyline High School in Millcreek. Moench offered gun locks on Saturday afternoon to those who stopped by a table to learn more about the group.
Last year, she woke up to news of the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and initially thought, "It's just another school shooting."
Within seconds, she said, her initial reaction "set off alarm bells. I should feel something. I don't want it to be normalized."