Next month will see the first general election since the Las Vegas and Stoneman Douglas shootings. And New Mexico had a school shooting of its own in Aztec last December.
Many locals agree that the violence needs to stop, but how to do that looks really different to different people.
A weekend-long gun show in Albuquerque is filled with people buying and selling things like firearms, knives and stun guns.
Jerry Mullen was there, selling some antique revolvers. And if you ask him which way he leans when it comes to the Second Amendment...
“Guns? I lean right, of course!” he said with a laugh. “Lean? Hell, I fall over right.”
Mullen is in his 70’s, and he’s been passionate about guns since he was a teenager.
“Our country was founded on a bunch of rebel sons of guns that fought the biggest Army and Navy in the world and won so I could have that right,” he said. “I’ll defend that.”
He said he served in the Army during the Vietnam War, and he’s frustrated with people kneeling during the national anthem - that’s one of the reasons he’ll be voting this year. Another is to elect people who will help him protect his gun collection.
“If my friends on the left said, ‘We’re coming for your gun,’ I hope that doesn’t happen. I don't’ want to be violent,” he said. “But nobody is going to take my gun. I don’t want to lose that right and I don’t want to lose my guns.”
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, disputes those kinds of beliefs.
“When we first started, everybody thought we were trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” she said. “That if we’d pass the simplest piece of gun violence prevention legislation, that it was this slippery slope idea.”
The group was formed after the Sandy Hook shooting to reduce gun violence in the state. New Mexico’s rate of gun-related deaths stands at 18 percent. The national rate is 11 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And with all 70 seats in the state’s House of Representatives up for grabs, this election’s outcome could shape what the state’s gun laws will look like.
“It has really become a voting issue and I think even those legislators that before were either sitting on the fence or were like ‘No,’ I think they’re finally realizing that their constituents don’t want that anymore,” Viscoli said.
Part of that confidence comes from her belief that the middle ground in the gun control debate is growing.
“We’re starting to see a change in philosophy,” she said. “Even people who are die-hard NRA members are looking at how ridiculous the gun violence is in this state.”
Attitudes do seem to be shifting nationally. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published earlier this year found that 57 percent of Americans think enacting laws to prevent gun violence is a bigger priority than protecting the right to own guns. That’s up 11 points from 2015.
Zachary Fort is president of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association.
“Down in the south, you see both the Democrat and the Republican putting out ads where they feature firearms and talk about hunting and guns,” Fort said.
Democrat Xochitl Torres Small is running for the 2nd Congressional District in Southern New Mexico and she released a TV ad earlier this month where she’s hunting with a rifle. She doesn’t address gun control on her website, but she told the Albuquerque Journal she supports “common-sense gun safety measures.”
Her opponent Republican Yvette Herrell says on her website that she’s a proud NRA member who will defend the Second Amendment.
Fort said the state’s metro areas are really polarized and that that division is leaking out to residents of more rural areas. And that’s influencing the candidates.
“It’s an important issue for both sides,” he said. “So you see candidates for Congress, for governor taking their stance.”
In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham says she supports a ban on assault-style weapons and wants to keep domestic abusers from buying firearms. Her Republican opponent Steve Peace says schools should use metal detectors to catch anyone bringing a gun onto campus.
Fort said he can get behind bills that would keep guns away from dangerous people - under the right circumstances.
“If we get into the habit of suspending people’s constitutional rights without due process, I think that’s a very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Regardless of who wins, Fort said, he does hope the next governor can help reduce gun violence in the state.
Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.