Over 100 Santa Feans gathered under snowy skies on the Plaza on Saturday to mourn the victims of gun violence in New Mexico and raise a call for reform to state laws.
Organized by New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, the vigil was short, lasting only 15 minutes, but its message came through strong: Gun deaths must stop in New Mexico. Just two days shy of the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., the centerpiece of the demonstration was 60 life-sized cutouts of bodies, each painted white with a name written in black. (Those represented a fraction of the 339 gun deaths that have happened this year, including at least one in Santa Fe County.) Volunteers began at the four corners of the Plaza, and as the cathedral bells tolled noon and a wintry mix of icy precipitation fell, they processed to the center while a choir sang "Da Pacem Domine," or "Give Us Peace, Oh Lord."
As an arc of bodies formed in front of the bandstand, people began reading names and descriptions of the victims of gun violence in New Mexico this year; many of the victims described were children, including 4-year-old Lilly Garcia from Albuquerque, who was killed on Oct. 21 in an apparent act of road rage.
Mayor Javier Gonzales spoke briefly, offering condolences to those who had lost loved ones and promises of gun safety and reform in Santa Fe for the coming year, while highlighting the city's already low gun violence rates.
Pastor Harry Eberts of the First Presbyterian Church and co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, who spoke last, urged everyone to meet with their representatives at every level of government to talk about solutions.
“I want to ask all of you to be prophets in this movement,” Eberts said. “From this point on, let’s say: We’re going to live in a bright and shining world where no one no longer dies by a firearm.”
Eberts later tells SFR he's frustrated with the "political and social climate surrounding guns."
“We thought Sandy Hook would be the tipping point, where it’d start to go down. But it hasn’t,” Eberts says.
His wife, Jenny Harlan, placed the blame on organizations like the National Rifle Association, who she says use their political power to persuade with false evidence and statistics.
Miranda Viscoli, the other co-leader of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, says this kind of activism is needed in New Mexico. “We have some of the worst statistics in the country in terms of gun violence, and we also have some of the weakest laws.”
She proceeded to list the worst of the lot: 40 percent of homes have firearms that aren't locked. 74 percent of homicides of people between the ages of 1 and 18 are accomplished with firearms, and homicide itself is the third leading cause of death for the same demographic.
"It really, really affects our young people," Viscoli said. "We think of it as a public health epidemic."
However, her goals are simple and proven: “We’re trying to figure out what laws we can pass that are simple laws,” she said. “Simply fixing the background check system, getting our state laws to mirror federal laws—we’re not even talking about big things like a ban on assault weapons, we’re talking quick fixes.”
Mostly, she says, it's about moving quickly to prevent senseless deaths so that vigils like this one become a part of the past.