Gun violence demands our action
June 2 in the United States is Gun Violence Awareness Day. Across the country, people will wear orange in honor of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago, as well as all those who have lost their lives to this public health epidemic that is spreading into every sector of our society.
Raising awareness is crucial to this fight, especially in states like New Mexico. According to the Centers for Disease Control, New Mexico is the 8th-worst state for gun violence, with a death rate 55 percent higher than the rest of the nation. From 2010-2014 firearm fatalities were the third leading cause of death. In terms of gun injuries, we are off the charts. From 2010-2014, firearm assault injury visits to emergency rooms increased by 138 percent while unintentional firearm injury visits increased by 55 percent. Firearm suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals 10-64 years old. Homicide is the third leading cause of death for children in our state, with 74 percent killed by a gun. (This information is from the New Mexico Indicator-Based Information System.)
Sadly, it is getting worse. According to the Department of Public Health, in 2015 there were 405 people shot and killed in New Mexico. That is a 16.4 percent increase from the previous year. That same year, roughly 115 people died in DWI-related car accidents. We put over $20 million that year into DWI prevention. We did not put one cent into gun violence prevention. I am not, in any way, advocating that we not put money into DWI. It is money well spent and it is working. Fewer people are killed each year thanks to these programs. But shouldn’t we also put money into programs that prevent gun violence, which kills almost four times as many people a year as DWI?
We cannot afford to wait for our elected officials to solve the problem. This last legislative session was yet another disappointing example of the NRA’s stranglehold on our political leaders. There were three gun violence prevention bills that went nowhere. The background check bill never made it out of the House. The bill to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders passed with strong bipartisan support but was vetoed by the governor, with a memo unabashedly siding with domestic violence abusers rather than their victims. And yes, as crazy as it sounds, loaded guns will still be allowed in our state Capitol building.
So what can we do to stem the tide of gun violence? If, somehow, we could get everyone in our country on June 2 only to wear orange, absolutely nothing will have changed. If every one of us wearing orange also commits to at least one action a year toward ending gun violence, a lot would change. Truthfully, we need to roll up our orange sleeves and get to work.
Here are just a few ideas. Volunteer with a local grassroots group like New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. Call your senators and elected officials every week to ask them what they have done (or not done) this week to address the New Mexico gun violence epidemic. Have bake sales to raise money for gun violence prevention billboards, gun-locks, or gun buybacks. (Our state does not pay for any of these.) Have a screening of one of the many powerful films addressing U.S. gun violence at your local library. Mentor an atrisk youth. Help teach children to read.
We need to get creative and committed in our awareness-raising. When our elected officials see tens of thousands of us take real action, then and only then, will they finally realize that our votes and our lives matters more than the bullying tactics employed by the NRA and the corporate gun lobby. We know that the NRA is dead wrong. Guns do kill people. In fact, they kill 33,000 people a year in our nation.