ALBUQUERQUE – On Nov. 4, the parking lot outside Albuquerque’s San Pedro Library held more people than cars. On a wall in the parking lot, the nonprofit organization New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence unveiled its new mural against gun violence – a shower of flowers, faces and hummingbirds. The mural itself has augmented reality or AR capabilities, which enables visual elements to change or shift when viewed through a phone camera.
“All the faces, they become shadow and then a scrolling list of people that we’ve lost in this city in New Mexico starts scrolling,” said Warren Montoya, the artist who created the mural.
“So it’s a list of 200…almost 300 names by now that have been taken in the last two years, so that people can really recognize and remember those people,” he said.
New Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the state with the third-highest death rate as a result of gun violence in 2021. In September this year, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a public health order that would have prohibited people from carrying guns – whether concealed or openly carried – in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, and other areas with high rates of gun violence.
This initial order was blocked by a federal judge, however, and an amended version that only banned the carrying of guns in public parks and playgrounds went into effect. This amended order has been renewed and extended until Dec. 1.
But not all New Mexicans agree with the public health order.
“I think that the governor is overreaching … I mean, gun violence has been going high for the last three years,” said Sally Sanchez, co-founder of New Mexico Crusaders for Justice, a group that advocates for and supports families who have lost loved ones to homicide. “We went to her back in ‘21 for the ‘22 session and asked her to call a special session so that we can get some crime bills passed to get the gun violence to at least slow down. And she ignored it back then.”
“Taking people’s guns is not the answer to me … There has to be accountability. It cannot be all about leniency,” Sanchez said.
Alex Uballez, U.S. attorney for New Mexico, also linked leniency and accountability at the mural’s unveiling.
“What this mural demonstrates to us … what all of you here demonstrate today is that we are one single community that has to learn how to live together in peace,” Uballez said.
“The truth is that the answers are never simple and that they are never one-sided. The truth is that punishment alone does not work, but neither does leniency alone. There must be both consequences and forgiveness,” he said.
Student advocate Janae Martinez, a high school senior, spoke about the negative effects of gun violence on the health of young people.
“Sowing the seed of fear and insecurity can have long-lasting repercussions. Too often, our youth are forced to witness the terror of violence when on the news is another school shooting.…The fear of being in harm’s way, of losing loved ones or being victims themselves disrupts their sense of safety and their trust in the world around them. This fear can manifest in various ways from struggling in school due to … anxiety or experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” Martinez said.
“We must recognize that short-term bandages are not the solution to healing our communities. Throwing our youth into juvenile detention is not the answer. We cannot afford to perpetuate a cycle of violence and incarceration,” she said. “Instead, we should invest in education and opportunities for our youth, address systemic inequalities and foster a culture of empathy and understanding and support.”
While speakers and others at the event expressed different opinions on how to deal with gun violence in the state, many people had one thing in common: They had lost people close to them as a result of gun violence.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonpartisan organization that works to reduce gun violence, said that during a school visit, she met several students who had lost loved ones to gun violence.
“We had five students come up to us … to honor somebody they knew, including a mother, a first cousin, and three best friends. That’s one classroom,” Viscoli said. “And we’re not lying when we say that our kids expect to either be dead by gun violence or in jail by gun violence. That is the world we have created for our young people.”
Sally Sanchez carries the reminder of her own loss in a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal. The bear, which she brings everywhere with her, contains a recording of the last voicemail she ever received from her son, Antonio Jaramillo, who died in 2020. He was 32 years old.
“He was a mama’s boy. He was born on the 23rd of December, and my birthday is Dec. 22nd. So I went through 23 hours of labor for him to have his own birthday,” Sanchez said.
Through the bear, her son’s voice rings out, whenever she needs to hear it.
“Hi Mom. Just calling to say hi, see how your weekend was going. I’m sure you’re busy … I love you. I hope you had a good weekend and I’ll call you tomorrow morning before you go to work, okay? Love you, talk to you.”