I started the week wishing lawmakers and elected leaders were as concerned about kids killing kids and families being fearful as they were about Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposed 30-day ban on guns in public places.
There has been a flurry of press conferences, lawsuits, statements by various politicians in office, and by aspiring politicians.
There is a weak effort to impeach the governor, sponsored by two state representatives who proudly wear AR-15 lapel pins during legislative sessions. One of them, John Block, displays a life size picture of the former president as Rambo with the same weapon – in his legislative office.
Most criticisms and demands for impeachment and a special session were bereft of any empathy for the victims and families whose lives are being destroyed by the proliferation of guns – especially among teens.
Let’s be clear: The governor declared a public health emergency and a 30-day ban on firearms in public places in Bernalillo County and on state property. She did not ban ownership of guns.
The public health order may have been precipitous and invited legal challenges. But it reflected the frustration of many and a sense of badly needed urgency.
The governor reflected the fears of every mother, father, grandparent, and everyone watching kids being killed. She articulated the grief felt by the community when an 11-year-old was killed leaving a baseball game with his family. As a mom she felt the agony of the parents finding a five-year-old dead in her bed after a drive by shooting.
A series of gun deaths in Albuquerque generated the order, but gun violence is everywhere in New Mexico. Recently a teen boy shot a 14-year-old girl inside a home in Questa using his father’s gun.
A Searchlight NM report focused on Farmington, where recent gun deaths gained national attention. In May of this year a teen boy went on a random killing spree with an automatic weapon killing three women and injuring six others.
Here are the facts:
· In 2021 a state Department of Health and UNM report said 415 New Mexicans die each year, and 64% of those deaths are suicides and 30% are homicides;
· New Mexico has the highest rate of gun deaths among Latinos;
· Suicide rates in New Mexico are highest among young Native Americans;
· New Mexico has the 7th highest rate of gun violence in the U.S; and
· A 2022 poll shows 57% of kids fear guns in schools.
So, what can be done besides grandstanding and bickering among elected leaders and lawsuits filed by the NRA and partisan groups?
· Pass a bill requiring a 14-day waiting period to purchase a gun. Eleven states have passed bills with bipartisan support. The data show waiting periods can reduce suicides by as much as 17% and reduce homicides by varying degrees.
· Raise the age limit from 18 to 21 to buy an assault weapon.
· Dedicate more funding for prevention efforts. Currently New Mexico provides a minimal $300,000 for such efforts. Put $10 million in the budget for prevention efforts to do things that work. Engage young people in the gun safety discussion, provide schools with credible curriculum on the effects of gun violence, produce gun safety PSAs, fund The Gun Shop program.
· Get serious about rebuilding mental health services. New Mexico has struggled with mental health services for young people and drug rehab programs since Susana Martinez was governor, with false claims of fraud destroying what New Mexico spent years building.
· Keep your eye on the ball. It’s about guns, gun violence, and crimes with guns.
In declaring the emergency, the governor brought a sense of urgency, frustration, and humanity to the discussion. Let’s not lose it.