In a murderous year in ABQ, gunplay leads to record deaths - Albuquerque Journal

In a murderous year in ABQ, gunplay leads to record deaths

Albuquerque Police officers have been kept busy investigating a record number of homicides this year, with many of the victims killed by a firearm. Officers, above, search for evidence at an April 20 crime scene strewn with yellow markers indicating where spent rounds were located. The victim later died. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A recent Sunday this month was no day of rest for Albuquerque violent crimes investigators or the people attempting to violently force their victims into eternal rest after gunning them down.

Forty-two minutes into Nov. 7, Albuquerque police officers responded to a call of a person shot in the head at Menaul and University NE. An Albuquerque police spokesman later said the shooting was never classified as a homicide.

Eight minutes later, officers headed to a call at Adam Food Market at Central and Dallas NE where two people were shot – one of them already dead and lying aside a small white car, its doors still open.

At 6:45 that evening, officers again headed out to a report of shots fired, this one outside the Ariana Halal Market at San Mateo and Mountain NE. There they found Mohammad Ahmadi, the brother of the market’s owner, dead with a gunshot wound to his head.

That Sunday wasn’t the first day this year bloodied by multiple incidents of gun violence. During Halloween weekend, for example, three people were shot dead and eight were wounded by gunfire.

As I write this, nine people in Albuquerque have been shot, seven fatally, this month.

Violent crimes investigators have gotten little rest this year. Albuquerque has passed the tragic milestone of 100 homicides in one year, with six more weeks to go.

My colleague Matthew Reisen, who has covered most of these deadly callouts, estimates that at least 80 of those homicides were firearm-related. That grim statistic should surprise no one.

That we wring our hands over so much bloodshed then hug our guns closer should also surprise no one.

Albuquerque, like many communities across the United States, has a gun problem, but the problem is we don’t want to talk about what to do about guns. If we mention background checks or bans on assault weapons, we are accused of wanting to take away everybody’s guns in violation of the Second Amendment.

If we talk about keeping our guns, we are accused of ignoring, even celebrating, the blood on our hands.

“The killing in this town has reached Chicago levels. Horrendous,” wrote Kevin McKeown, a longtime reader who has never been afraid to share an opinion. “Proposed gun control laws will do nothing to stop the violence. Guns need to be removed from highly irresponsible people. Thugs, that is. That won’t happen. Gun confiscation will leave guns in the hands of thugs.”

He’s not wrong. Those folks who wield their weaponry for illegal and dangerous aim aren’t likely to adhere to any gun laws, at least none I nor others with far more wisdom have come up with.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina recently announced a public awareness campaign to alert parents, homeowners and youths about the recent rise in shootings at house parties, but I suspect those parties and those shootings won’t abate with a commercial and a slogan.

APD earlier launched tactical plans to curb the increasing numbers of homicides at hotels and apartment complexes and at the hands of convicted violent offenders. Those efforts have largely been ineffective.

Last week, Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and a former Bernalillo County sheriff’s captain, introduced a package of crime-fighting bills he intends to present at next year’s legislative session. They focus on consequences after a crime is committed – including one that increases the prison term for being a felon in possession of a firearm from three years to up to five.

A firearm was seized from the scene of a shootout Aug. 19, when four Albuquerque police officers were wounded. About 80% of the homicides committed this year in Albuquerque were the result of gun violence, a Journal estimate reveals. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

None directly targets gun possession or what should be imposed before a person commits a felony or kills someone.

This week, the New York Times dug into the sharp rise in homicides across the country. The article featured four homicides, including the Aug. 3 death of Joshua Garcia, who traveled from his home in Alamogordo to Albuquerque, where he was shot in a room at the Motel 6 on Avenida Cesar Chavez SE – the same motel where one of the shooting victims this month was also killed.

The article suggests that Albuquerque’s rise in homicides is related to the city’s increasing problem with illegal drugs and the continued destabilizing effects of the pandemic. But the authors admit that the reasons are far more complex than that:

“In dozens of interviews, criminologists, city and state officials and people close to murder victims could not name a single, direct cause of the spike in homicides, and said that it could take years of data collection before the phenomenon is fully understood.”

One clear factor is that most of the homicides involved a firearm.

So here’s the thing: If we are ever to understand our problem with killing each other, we must also understand why guns are our weapon of choice.

Finally, we are closer to that understanding than we have been in years.

Until recently, Congress refused to fund gun violence research, barring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from spending federal dollars to “advocate or promote gun control” in 1996 under the Dickey Amendment, nicknamed for Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, a National Rifle Association acolyte.

Researching gun violence as a public health problem may get us closer to that understanding, but lessening the public rhetoric over the right to bear arms and easing the public wounding caused by gun violence may be even tougher nuts to crack.

“I am so tired of criminals and crime, and I have been a victim many times,” reader McKeown wrote. “From two carjacking attempts putting me in the hospital to stolen cars, home break-ins, car windows shot out (three times), plants stolen out of my garden, etc. I can cry.”

Something needs to be done. On that, I think we can all agree. But that’s about all we can agree on. Until we do, that day of rest, that solution to gun violence in our communities remain elusive, and dangerously so.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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