Merilee Dannemann, columnist

The governor’s declaration of a temporary gun moratorium was such a spectacular error that it took public attention off the issues that provoked it: the senseless murders of children in New Mexico.

Now we have lots of yammering about how to fix the gun problem while tiptoeing around the core of the problem: guns.

The suspects in the August 13 killing of five-year-old Galilea Samaniego were reportedly all underage, except for one 19-year-old who said she was not the shooter. We have not heard much about them.

One news report (lawandcrime.com) says the shooter was aiming at the grandson of Galilea’s babysitter. The two boys had been friends but argued about a girl. Over this argument, a teenager was apparently ready to murder another teenager.

If the shooter and his friends have committed previous crimes, maybe they should already have been incarcerated. If they had never done anything criminal before, there would have been no basis for that.

But one fact is undeniable: They would not have shot this child if they had not had a gun. Fourteen-year-old Porfirio Brown was reportedly friends with the girl he killed on July 28 in Questa. A few teens were goofing around, according to reports, and there was no provocation before Brown killed 13-year-old Amber Archuleta. There was a gun in his hand, and several more in the house.

Beau Wilson, the Farmington shooter, had no criminal record. He had a houseful of guns, including the one he bought shortly after his 18th birthday.

There was no basis, two years ago, to suspect 13-year-old Juan Saucedo Jr. would take a gun to school and kill fellow student Bennie Hargrove.

Now we’re falling all over ourselves demanding special legislative sessions and harsher penalties.

A recent editorial by the Albuquerque Journal, in advocating a special legislative session, listed several crime-related bills that were tabled in this year’s regular session. Most of these bills increase penalties for crimes.

None of these laws would have stopped any of those killings. How do you impose a strict sentence on someone who has not yet committed a crime?

Punishing crime is necessary. But the goal – at least MY goal – should be not to punish crime but to prevent it. So little Galilea is not shot at all but lives to grow up. Punishing the shooter is not a happy ending. My goal is no shooter. Which do you think her mother prefers?

But stricter sentences have a deterrent effect, making would-be criminals stop and exert enlightened self-control. Right? You’re kidding. Shooters don’t generally make rational choices. They are either too stupid, too driven by greed or anger, or too drug addicted. Or just too young. Deterrence only works on people who understand it.

The other remedy is mental health. This state bears a permanent scar because we sat by in confused silence while the previous governor systematically dismantled our already precarious behavioral health system. How do we identify everyone who is likely to shoot somebody and provide mental health services to those individuals? Where’s the plan?

You might think we could require mental health screening, in addition to background checks, as a condition of purchasing a gun. But if such a radical proposal passed our Legislature, county sheriffs would probably refuse to enforce it.

Requiring screening would stop some shootings but not enough. Even though a notable percentage of mass shootings are committed with freshly purchased firearms, there are so many guns in circulation that a determined shooter is surely able to find one, possibly in his dad’s closet.

The governor’s order was obviously a terrible idea. Okay, please tell us your better one, and hurry up before the next five-year-old is shot.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.

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