Governor's gun buyback program sparks discussions on New Mexico's gun violence issue
On an early Saturday morning, cars lined up an hour before the Las Cruces gun buyback event to drop off their firearms. At the event, a gun owner who wanted to remain anonymous said gun safety was a motivator in participating.
“Well, I have been reading that it’s probably good for these guns to get out of peoples’ hands because, just to avoid accidents that can happen: children possibly getting ahold of them, finding their way in somebody’s hands, then they find their way on the streets somehow, so…yeah.”
Lieutenant Philip Vargas, public information officer for the New Mexico State Police, said the event made an impact.
“We believe it was a great success. We wanted to remove the unwanted guns from our communities, and in that sense, we collected 439 firearms over the six-hour period.”
Lt. Vargas explained how the gun buyback event worked.
“So they would drop off their firearms. We would provide them with a ticket, if you will, and that ticket corresponded with the number of firearms—whether it was a handgun, and also whether or not it was a rifle; and at that point they would go to another location and they would obtain the $200 Visa gift card or the $300 Visa gift card, depending on whether they turned in a rifle or a handgun.”
Miranda Viscoli is the co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. While she and her organization have tried gun buybacks throughout the state since 2016, she recommends exercising caution when doing them.
“Our buyback program was very carefully designed so that it really was about people getting rid of unwanted guns,” she said. “We don’t take broken guns. And we also don’t take ghost guns, because when somebody sees that, 'okay, I’m gonna get $200 for a semiautomatic 3-D-printed ghost gun', those only cost between $45 and $65 to print. So that person comes to the buyback, brings in seven or eight, they’re making a good chunk of change, right? And you’re also setting up a dangerous environment when you run out of cards. Because now that person has printed out a bunch of semiautomatic handguns, and they will now need to want to get rid of them, where they will potentially get sold, and most likely get sold into the wrong hands.”
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order on gun violence brought New Mexico to the center of a discussion over firearm deaths and gun ownership rights. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48,830 deaths from gun-related injuries in New Mexico were reported in 2021. Miranda Viscoli cited the gun lobby as one of the contributing factors to those numbers.
“Politically—I am being honest—the NRA and the corporate gun lobby had a stronghold on this legislature until we (New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence) started in 2013,” Viscoli said. “And we put a stop to it, and we will continue to put the NRA on the defense. They haven’t passed one more of their, or tried to weaken, or block, any common-sense gun violence laws. So that’s our first problem.”
Viscoli also feels that New Mexico is a state that is “awash” in guns, especially after a spike in gun sales during Covid.
“And so what we see is that when you have a state that has very weak gun laws, has a lot of guns, but also has systemic failure when it comes to poverty, when it comes to help with mental health, when it comes to substance abuse disorder treatment, when it comes to helping our youth with just basic necessities—combine this with a lot of guns, and you’re going to have a train wreck of gun violence. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
As for solutions to the gun violence issue, Viscoli said that a lot of work still needs to be done, such as passing laws such as a waiting period law in addition to other legislations.
“And I also think we need to create a space where gun owners, and those fighting gun violence prevention, sit at the same table and say, ‘What do we agree on?’. Because we actually agree on a lot. There are some things we’re never gonna agree on, so put those to the side. But how do we bring our gun owners to the table? Many of them don’t want to see the gun violence that we’re seeing. How can we work together? Because it’s become such a divisive issue, right? And the divisiveness is not helping. So that’s what we’d like to see.”
Viscoli says that New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence also hands out free gun locks throughout New Mexico, which can also be found online at SafeStorageNM.org.