Although he retired after more than 25 years as a public health doctor for the state, Victor La Cerva remains committed to the violence prevention issues to which he devoted his career. As of July 1, it will be legal in
to bring concealed weapons into restaurants with beer and wine licenses if those establishments derive 60 percent of their annual gross receipts from the sale of food. In response, La Cerva (
) is planning a public awareness campaign. Below, La Cerva discusses the campaign, and the thinking behind it.
When I became medical director of [the state of New Mexico’s Family Health Bureau], I got interested in gun issues. Myself and a number of colleagues started the first gun fatality review team for young people in the nation because we wanted to look more specifically at the role of firearms in killing young people. [Statistically], the three things that kill and hurt young people are motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide. So, clearly with suicide and homicide, a fair amount of the time, young people were using guns.
I'm not anti-gun. I own a gun. I actually agree with the many people who say 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' But the reality is, people with guns kill more people. If you choose to keep a gun in your house, or your car as an extension of your home, I think you need to be educated about the risks that a gun in your household poses for you and your family. Most of the public health data shows you or a family member are more likely to end up injured or killed than using it successfully to protect yourself. If you choose to keep a gun, part of your responsibility is to make sure that gun is properly secured so young people don't have access to it.
When we were trying to fight off concealed carry, I would inform police that I was coming down to the Plaza with a bandolier and a sidearm and handing out cards that said 'Does my loaded gun make you nervous? Would you feel more comfortable if it was hidden under my coat?'
Most people don’t realize that New Mexico is an open carry state because most people don’t open carry because they know it wouldn’t be tolerated. Particularly with mass shootings, you walk with your gun visible into a place, people are going to get upset—that’s the reality of today’s culture. But it doesn’t make me feel any safer that you have it hidden under your coat. You’re still walking around with a loaded gun in the public commons. I think it’s bad public policy.
When we saw that the bill was going to get passed, many of us did our best to make sure it was the best bill possible. The highest homicide rate in New Mexico is 21- to 25-year-olds. If you’re going to do concealed carry, make the age limit 25, make it renewable every two years so we can again go through a good background check…limit the reciprocity with other states. Well, subsequently they’ve gone back and changed all that…and now we’re adding beer and wine potentially into the mix and everyone agrees guns and alcohol are not a good mixture.
I have to say, most people are trying to do the right thing. The Department of Public Safety that is charged with training people around concealed carry, the officers that carry out that training, everyone is trying to do the right thing. People who believe in concealed carry who go through the training, they're trying to do the right thing in line with their values. But to me, this is just a step too far, because the potential for someone with concealed carry to easily consume beer and wine in a restaurant with a loaded gun sitting next to me and my family, that's not OK.
My plan is to first clear it with the cops and tell them what's going on. Then I show up with a bandolier of bullets and a sidearm and I go to a restaurant and it's the same thing: handing out cards [that say] "Does my loaded gun make you nervous? Would you feel better if it was hidden under my coat?" All a restaurant needs to do is put up a sign at the entrance that says, 'no firearms allowed, private property.' That's all they have to do. So I'm going to make up a bunch of those signs…and get them to as many restaurants that want to put them up, and I'm hoping the public will demand of their favorite restaurants that they put them up if they agree that they don't want guns under somebody's coat where they're having dinner.