Tough on Talk, Light on Action

Santa Fe mayor promised strict gun laws after mass shootings, but nothing to show for it—yet

Guns are a problem in Santa Fe.

So said Mayor Alan Webber in a weekly newsletter, outlining gun safety measures he intends to propose in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Laguna Woods, California.

“This is sickening. Saddening. Depressing. Angering. Motivating,” Webber wrote. “We need to talk about it, and we need to do something about it. Now.”

That was on May 29. Now, in mid-July, there’s been little action.

In the newsletter, Webber said he’d propose a prohibition on firearms in city buildings and public spaces, noting that despite a state constitutional provision precluding local governments from passing gun laws stricter than the state’s, the City of Santa Fe can pass an ordinance to keep guns out of city-owned or controlled spaces. He compared that idea to a similar ordinance passed in Albuquerque in 2020, and called for state lawmakers to do away with the constitutional prohibition, which he called “NRA-promoted.”

Since then, Webber has put in a legislative request with the city attorney’s office proposing banning guns in city buildings and grounds where public school-related activities take place—a narrower scope than his promise to “prohibit guns in City buildings and public spaces.” He says the city is contacting department heads to determine which public spaces would qualify, and the city attorney is evaluating a recent US Supreme Court decision that ruled Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, to determine whether that step is legal.

Webber says his idea builds on a state statute protecting school premises, but that it doesn’t differ from what he envisioned when writing the May newsletter. (Though it does differ from what he wrote.)

“It just takes a significant amount of work to make sure you get it right,” he tells SFR. “[We’re] making sure that we don’t run afoul of either the interpretation of the state law or what the Supreme Court has now come down with.”

He says he doesn’t know when he’ll bring the proposal forward.

So, what specific problem does the Webber administration hope to fix? Asked another way: What is the nature of gun violence in Santa Fe?

The Santa Fe Police Department’s records show 501 firearm-involved cases since January 2021. That number could include lost or found firearms, guns reported stolen and other non-violent incidents. It doesn’t include shots-fired calls where responding officers find no evidence of a firearm and don’t file a report. SFPD Capt. Aaron Ortiz says he’s seen a definite uptick in firearm-involved crime in his time on patrol since 2007, but couldn’t say when it started.

A primary concern is a surge of youths with guns. Deputy Police Chief Ben Valdez says it’s spiked over the past three or four years. He pointed to the fatal July 7 shooting of Andres Griego-Alvarado, 18, in the parking lot of a smoke shop on Airport Road. Police have arrested Efren Sifuentes-Gallegos, also 18, and charged him with murder. It was the latest in a string of youth shootings.

Valdez says teens ask adults to buy guns for them or sneak them out of unsecured locations at home or elsewhere. Another key point of access is social media.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, recounts talking to kids who have shot and killed other kids and “wish they hadn’t pulled the trigger; they’re heartbroken about it.” She recalls asking one group in juvenile detention how quickly they could get a semiautomatic handgun.

“I was being facetious, of course,” she says. But the kids responded seriously, saying it would take 20 to 30 minutes via Snapchat or Instagram when they aren’t locked up.

The underlying reasons for the upswing in youth gun violence, Valdez says, are myriad: glamorization of firearms in film, television and video games, lack of gun safety education and lack of parental oversight.

The COVID-19 pandemic, authorities say, also contributes to gun violence: 2020 and 2021 saw record gun sales, with 40% of nationwide sales to first-time buyers, a 2020 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found. Valdez says that returning to normal routines—school, sports, summer jobs—would go a long way toward curbing youth gun violence.

“Even nationwide, there has been an uptick in people resorting to violence because of frustration with everything going on,” he says.

SFPD provides free gun locks, as does Viscoli’s nonprofit, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to reduce firearm injury and death.

Addressing the gun problem in Santa Fe won’t be easy or linear.

“It’s a multifaceted problem that demands a multipronged approach,” says Viscoli. “When you have domestic violence, poverty, housing insecurity, food insecurity, a backpack full of [Adverse Childhood Experiences], kids whose parents are working two jobs and hardly ever see them—then you throw a bunch of guns in the mix, and you’re gonna get a rise in gun violence.”

For Webber, the key stumbling block is the state constitution.

“The fundamental question in New Mexico is whether we’re going to keep that constitutional provision that preempts local government from taking any action that is more stringent than the state,” he says. “Until that gets changed…we’re not really able to take direct and significant action.”

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