Keep your head up. This advice is so common it’s become trite. It’s directed at high schoolers going to parties in my hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. All too often, parties are interrupted by shots fired and, all too often, interrupted by kids bleeding on the street.
I’m blessed to not have experienced this horror, but too many people in our community have lost their lives to this phenomenon. Personal experiences with the impacts of gun violence, like seeing someone laughing with their friends at school one day and attending their vigil the next, make gun violence an issue that strikes the heart of every New Mexican. As someone whose community has been devastated by gun violence, I believe restrictions on gun access are imperative.
On Oct. 25, the U.S. experienced its 10th deadliest mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine — the 566th mass shooting of the year. Eighteen people died and 13 more were injured. Last year, the country was shocked after a gunman killed 21 victims at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
It appears that the U.S. is unique when it comes to gun violence. The U.S. has 4.52 firearm homicides per 100,000 people, which is the highest rate of any high-income country with a population over 10 million. When it comes to school shootings, the U.S. rate far surpasses that of any other country across the globe, with 288 school shootings since 2009.
However, in such a politically polarized country, even the most heartbreaking tragedies don’t lead to action. Consensus seldom exists in modern-day U.S. politics — even as parents bury their children. Conservatives are hesitant to enact stricter gun control laws, clinging tight to their Second Amendment rights. However, a systematic review in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that stronger gun policies, such as background checks and permit-to purchase, were linked to decreased rates of firearm homicide, even after adjusting for demographic and sociological factors.
A counterpoint to the argument in favor of gun control might be, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” a favorite saying for National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne La Pierre. While guns are used annually to stop thousands of crimes, there are many caveats to this fact. Defensive gun use is relatively infrequent compared to delinquent gun use and there is little evidence to show that defensive gun use substantially reduces injuries to law-abiding citizens.
Statistically, gun control is hard to refute. But deep down, the staunchest gun advocates don’t care about the efficacy of gun control. They’re attached to their weapons and don’t want their rights infringed upon. I sympathize with the sentiment. I know many people in Albuquerque whose families feel safer because they own a gun. It’s not right to deny them that security. Many I know haven’t even looked at their firearm since they bought it. In cities like Albuquerque and Baltimore, where violent crime rates are high, owning a gun can be a safety net for your own peace of mind, when the streets you live on don’t promise a tomorrow.
Gun control policy needs to be cognizant of this fact. A longitudinal study showed that minority women feel safer in their households when owning a gun. The historical record of gun control policies in this country shows that, all too often, gun control measures discriminate by race, leading to the people who would most benefit from gun ownership not being able to access it.
For this reason, I cannot trust the current Congress to enact “red flag” laws, where certain potentially dangerous individuals can have their guns temporarily confiscated. In fact, before the 1970s, the NRA, a group that defends the right to own semi-automatic weapons in the wake of major mass shootings, was actually in favor of gun control.
After the Black Panther Party marched on Washington, D.C., white members of the NRA and other political organizations feared how guns could liberate minorities. The NRA is also the group that lobbied for the Dickey Amendment, which bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. Effectively, this amendment led to a decline in research into gun violence. This lack of scientific research makes enacting effective gun legislation much more difficult and nebulous.
Three years ago, I used to hear the name Fedonta “JB” White in basketball practice, a star phenom for Santa Fe High School. He loved New Mexico and Santa Fe with all his heart and wanted to make a difference in his community. Despite all his talent, being ranked top 50 in the nation, he elected to stay home and play for us at the University of New Mexico. He died after being shot to death at a party. I know a lot of people who wanted to change New Mexico and uplift our community but saw their lives cut short by bullets.
Certainly, the issue of guns is nuanced. No American sees the discussion as insipid: When it comes to gun violence, 48% of Americans believe it to be a very big problem. To politicians, if you cannot support gun control, please pitch something better because, personally, I can’t watch my community and countless others in tears anymore.
Neil Mahto is a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., majoring in Neuroscience and English.