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SANTA FE – Miranda Viscoli says she didn’t know anything about guns before January 2013.
But after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, in which 26 students and staff members died at the hand of a lone gunman, Viscoli and her group, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, have drastically shaped gun laws in New Mexico.
“I couldn’t just stay angry,” Viscoli said. “I had to do something.”
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence had a hand in drafting three bills passed in the state Legislature the past two years.
Last year, the group helped draft a law to require background checks on all firearm sales and a bill prohibiting someone under a domestic violence abuse protection order from buying a gun.
This year, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence helped compose the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, otherwise known as the “red flag” gun bill, which was also signed into law.
The bills faced opposition from gun owners and sheriffs around the state who argued the bills were unconstitutional, in violation of the Second Amendment.
Viscoli said all these changes in New Mexico law can be attributed to a huge swell of attention on the issues, particularly among young people. Teenagers around the country got vocal about changing gun laws after 17 people died at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.
“I think the youth around Parkland has made a huge difference,” she said.
Local teens started organizing demonstrations at the Roundhouse and at schools. State Rep. Daymon Ely, who co-sponsored the red flag bill, said Viscoli organizing teenagers to speak at committee hearings had a strong impact on legislators.
“It’s been very helpful, and kids are powerful advocates for gun control legislation,” Ely said. “She’s a good organizer and a good motivator.”
People say Viscoli’s ability to work with youth is her greatest asset.
Judy Pacheco, associate director at Youth Development Inc. in Albuquerque, said Viscoli worked with kids in YDI’s gang intervention program to create murals that take a stand against gun violence.
“She’s really great to work with,” Pacheco said. “She’s able to educate the kids about the danger of guns. She has a really good rapport with young people. It’s just natural.”
But before Sandy Hook, Viscoli, a local Santa Fean who attended Santa Fe Prep, says she didn’t even know what “NRA” stood for. She was working on a Ph.D. in art history at UNM at the time.
“I was so over my head,” she said. “I was not in my world at all.”
So she said she started researching New Mexico’s gun laws. “It was so evident that gun violence is a civil rights problem,” Viscoli said. “The majority of people in this country who are affected by gun violence are people of color. That’s not the country I want to live in.”
She and a group of other concerned citizens met online and the group eventually became New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in January 2013. They were already working on legislation on background checks for gun sales by the end of the month.
The following year, the group started work on the domestic violence protection order bill because they wanted to introduce legislation they thought former Gov. Susana Martinez would sign – but she did not.
“It was a pretty bad moment in the history of New Mexico,” Viscoli said. “Her (Martinez’s) message said this is very difficult and complicated situation for everybody involved, including the person who’s holding a gun to a woman’s head – or usually a woman.”
Although New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence has been instrumental in shaping legislation, Viscoli said it’s only about a quarter of what they do. The group works with students and schools, and organizes gun buybacks. All the programs keep Viscoli busy, so she works full-time with the organization and doesn’t take a salary for herself. She says maybe one day she’ll go back to school to finish her Ph.D.
Viscoli says she doesn’t personally own a gun, although she does have a safe full of firearms that people gave her for safekeeping. She’s not against them, but does say she has seen the worst of what they can do.
“Do I like guns? No,” she said. “I respect people who like them, like people who go hunting. I think I see so many people who have been affected adversely by gun violence. I’ve sat with too many parents crying. I sat with too many students crying who lost their best friends.”