The morphology techs rolled the young man’s bare body on his side to show me two tidy, tiny round holes in his back.
The holes were gunshot wounds caused by a .22-caliber handgun. But what those little bullets had done inside the young man’s body was big and bad enough to kill him.
His autopsy was among those I observed for an article I did about life and death at the state Officer of the Medical Examiner in 2000, but after all these years I can still see those perfect pea-sized holes and the bloody chaos that lay beyond the flesh and muscle.
The young man had been at a party around a campfire when a fight broke out and the guns came out. It was another senseless shooting committed in an irretrievable moment of anger and stupidity.
Gun violence has gotten worse since then, but you knew that. Just this week, Albuquerque police issued arrest warrants for five teens charged in connection with firing at least 30 rounds into an SUV, killing a young mother, her child in the back seat, and wounding her fiancé in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity over a previous theft, also involving guns.
And then came Uvalde, Texas, and the massacre of 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers by yet another teenager with yet another easily accessible AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
We Americans just love our guns, don’t we?
But I hope we are also sick of the bloodshed, sick of firearms being stolen or otherwise ill-gotten and falling into the wrong hands of careless criminals and reckless youth.
Maybe you’re just sick of having a gun but don’t know how to safely dispose of it.
Next month you have your chance to lay down your arms, no questions asked, and get compensated for your efforts to help reduce the number of unwanted weaponry in the country.
Gun violence prevention organizations and faith-based groups in 10 states (so far) across the country are banding together to launch the first Guns to Gardens National Buyback Day on June 11. New Mexico is one of those states.
The local event will be held in Albuquerque and is sponsored by New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, La Mesa Presbyterian Church (the event location) and the District Attorney’s Office in Bernalillo County.
In exchange for each firearm, participants will receive gift cards from Target, Walmart, Albertsons, Amazon and Brewer Gas ranging in value from $100 to $250 depending on the type of firearm.
Free gunlocks and gun safety information will also be provided.
Firearms will be checked to see if they are stolen once the exchange is made. Because participants remain anonymous, that means you may freely surrender stolen guns without fear of the law nabbing you.
Cleared firearms will be dismantled on site and the scrap metal sent to the nonprofit Colorado-based RAWtools to be forged into gardening implements – swords into plowshares, if you will.
“Fewer unwanted guns on our streets mean fewer stolen guns, fewer guns getting into unsafe hands and fewer gun injuries and deaths,” said Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, which has held 13 buyback events since 2016.
“Out of the 1,000-plus guns we have dismantled, over 33% have been semi-automatic handguns, semi-automatic rifles or assault weapons,” Viscoli said. “Our anonymous survey shows that 63% of participants turn their guns in for safety reasons.”
Gun buyback programs are voluntary and have nothing to do with prying weapons from cold, live hands. They are not infringing on your Second Amendment rights but are a safe, effective and increasingly popular method to eliminate unwanted working weaponry from the streets.
A buyback held last Saturday by the Sacramento Police Department in California, for example, ran out of gift cards within 45 minutes, cutting short what was supposed to have been a five-hour event.
Yet gun ownership has risen by 88% in the last decade, with an estimated 120.5 firearms per 100 residents, far higher than any other country, according to a Swiss-based small arms research project.
Gun ownership soared in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest settled across the nation.
Also soaring: gun violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overall gun deaths increased by 15% in 2020 to 45,222, the highest number ever recorded by the CDC since it began tracking such deaths in 1968.
Guns were used more in both suicides and homicides in New Mexico than all other methods of death combined, according to OMI’s annual report in 2020, the latest year available.
But you knew that.
Which leads me to another article I wrote, this one in 2012 when I decided to buy a gun, prompted by a threat by an armed and angry ex-boyfriend against a member of my family.
I had also hoped than owning and operating a firearm would help me understand why so many of you love your guns so much.
It didn’t work.
It was just too odd a fit for someone like me who was raised in a gun-free home of non-hunters and who spent years reporting on homicides and heartbreaks, most of them gun-related. Perhaps I have seen too much of the damage guns do and almost none of the benefits.
That gun article received among the most response of any I’ve written in my nearly 14 years as an UpFront columnist.
It took me 14 months after I purchased my .22-caliber Ruger – kept secured in a safe – to fire it, and only after I was professionally trained how to do so. I admit it was kind of fun blasting holes in paper targets at Calibers. As it turns out, I’m not a bad shot.
But after that initial visit to the shooting range, my gun went back in the safe. I never shot it again.
I think of that young man with the holes in his back, the holes in hearts of the loved ones he left behind, and I feel no love for guns. But you knew that.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.