Mark Kelly, retired astronaut and commander of the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, asked a simple question: “How many of you know somebody who has been shot?”
All nine New Mexico students in the room raised their hands.
Kelly asked a second question: “How many of you know more than one person who has been shot?”
Three raised their hands.
A third question: “How many of you have been shot at?”
Three raised their hands.
That interaction was part of a roundtable on gun violence prevention Tuesday at the University of New Mexico’s Domenici Center for Health Science with Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Giffords was one of 13 people wounded at a “Congress on Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store on Jan. 8, 2011. Six people were killed in the rampage. Law enforcement authorities said Giffords was the main target.
Student leaders from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and Santo Domingo Pueblo representing New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, March for Our Lives and Mayor Tim Keller’s Youth Advisory Council attended the roundtable after testifying earlier in the day at a hearing of the New Mexico Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.
Kelly spoke to the teens about their experiences with gun violence.
“If you ask that question (about how many know a person who has been shot) in any other developed country, it’s almost zero percent. It’s very rare that anybody will raise their hand,” Kelly said.
“I’ve done this a number of times … in Australia and the UK. Here in the United States, it’s about half, and if you live in a state like New Mexico, which has high gun violence compared to other states, that’s why all of you want to put your hands up, which is remarkable and really unfortunate.”
The teens relayed their thoughts, feelings and fears of going to school. One of those was Albuquerque High School student Sophie LaBorwit, 17.
“Going to school and feeling safe is something that, as students, we should be entitled to,” LaBorwit said. “I think that’s not the case. After Parkland (Fla.) happened, my friends starting making plans like, ‘If there’s a shooter, go outside and run to my car’ or ‘run to this classroom because you’ll be safe there.’
“To me, those conversations, it’s something that you hear all the time, and it’s something that shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t need to feel like we need to find shelter, where it’s going to be safest at our school.”
Kelly and Giffords assured the students they have a voice and a role to play in producing change by engaging in the community and voting throughout their adult lives.
“These are scary times,” Giffords told the teens. “Racism, sexism, lies, violence. It’s time to stand up for what’s right. It’s time for courage. We must stop gun violence – protect our children, our future – let them lead the way. Make our country a safer place, a better place. Do you have the courage to fight? Stand with me. Vote, vote, vote. On Election Day, your voice matters.”