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Lawmakers hear challenges of addressing rising gun violence

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Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
A slide from a presentation from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions showed that in New Mexico in 2011-2020, the gun death rate increased 53%.

New Mexico had the 7th highest gun death rate in the country in 2020 and firearms were the leading cause of death among children and teens from 2016 to 2020, according to Ari Davis from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, who was speaking to the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee meeting Tuesday at the New Mexico Legislature.

The committee discussed a number of proposals to address the alarming rise in gun violence.

Aryan Showers, director of the Office of Policy and Accountability of the Department of Health outlined the creation of a new violence prevention unit which is set to implement interventions designed to prevent gun violence in collaboration with hospitals, cities, tribes and other groups.

Lawmakers also gave a presentation about a bill set to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session in January which would create a state office of gun violence prevention, whose director would be appointed by the Department of Health.

However, in discussion of the effectiveness of existing measures, speakers raised serious concerns about implementation. Earlier this year, the legislature passed House Bill 68, which mandated training for police on several skills including de-escalation and crisis intervention.

Sheriff Glenn Hamilton, of Sierra County, who is legislative liaison to the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, said that for rural police forces with a small number of deputies, it was unrealistic for police to conduct so much training because they cannot be spared from their duties.

Hamilton also highlighted weaknesses in background checks for firearm purchases. Since 2019, New Mexico has required a background check to purchase a firearm. But Hamilton said the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) relies on states voluntarily reporting information to the FBI.

He said that there are gaps in what gets reported to those departments. For instance in New Mexico, only about a third of police departments are currently reporting their data as they are meant to.

Hamilton told KUNM this worries him.

“Since it's being used primarily for either the approval or the denial of an individual purchasing a firearm illegally, it's a huge concern,” he said, adding that it should be a priority that the relevant data be reported diligently.

“You hear it all the time, how did that individual purchase a firearm when he had this, that or the other thing?”

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the FBI estimates that, on average, about 3,000 people pass a NICS background check each year despite being prohibited under state or federal law from purchasing a gun.

This reporting was made possible by the WK Kellogg foundation, and KUNM listeners.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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