SANTA FE, N.M. — The Muslim couple who went on a rampage, killing 14 people and wounding many others in San Bernadino, Calif., on Dec. 2 pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State before carrying out the attack, raising the spectre of more attacks inspired or directed ISIS in the United States.
The massacre prompted President Barack Obama to address the nation from the Oval Office during prime time Sunday, when he called on Americans to pass stricter gun legislation, act peacefully toward Muslim Americans and take a stand against the ideologies followers of ISIS are willing to die for.
With mass shootings becoming regular tragedies, leaders, politicians and everyday citizens are debating how to curb the problem.
In Santa Fe, two days before the presidential address, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said in a press release that he is starting the Santa Fe Gun Violence Table, in conjunction with the advocate group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, to discuss solutions to prevent mass shootings. Gonzales says the group won’t be able to end gun violence, but he hopes it will brainstorm ways to prevent dangerous people from getting firearms.
“The motivations behind the killings may range from racism to mental illness to domestic and foreign terror, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are far, far too easy to commit,” Gonzales said in the release. “And each time, we ask ourselves if this shooting is horrific enough to finally force us to change.”
Gonzales said the group will start meeting in the new year.
There is protocol in place for federal officials to identify potential terrorists, but that’s a little harder for local law enforcement, increasingly seen as the first line of defense. Santa Fe Police Department Lt. James Lamb said this week that the department works with the New Mexico All Source Intelligence Center (NMASIC) – an agency dedicated to the “collection, analysis, and timely dissemination of terrorism-related information” – to try to keep up with any local information on terrorist activity.
The materials used to make pipe bombs – like those found in the San Bernadino couple’s apartment after they were killed in a shootout with police – can be bought very easily and most purchases would be hard-pressed to make it into any terrorist-related intelligence reports. But it’s when those supplies are bought in bulk that the buys should raise suspicions.
“That’s really tough to determine because you never know who’s out there,” Lamb said. “When you buy (bomb supplies) in quantities, that becomes an issue. And you only have to register to buy a gun when you buy a new gun from a dealer.”
While Lamb says it may be hard to know who’s up to no good before an attack happens, he said the SFPD is prepared to react to shooters like the ones in California, who had over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
“We’re as capable as any police department in the U.S.,” Lamb said. “We have a tactical team that trains every week, we do active shooter exercises and we even have an intelligence unit that monitors different things, like social media.”
The San Bernadino shootings intensified the national debate over whether to take in Muslim refugees from the war in Syria or combat zones and hardship elsewhere in the world. On Monday, presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Several New Mexico leaders, including Gov. Susana Martinez, also a Republican, denounced Trump’s proposal.
The Journal North was unable to reach anyone with the Dar al Islam mosque and education center near Abiquiu this week.
But Shafi Abdul Aziz, Imam of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said Thursday that the local Islamic community does not feel threatened by possible backlash and he says the community has a good relationship with leaders in the Roundhouse.
“New Mexico is a community that promotes diversity and has been very welcoming,” Abdul Aziz said. “ We have a great relationship with the state government … . People will definitely shout something at you, but those are isolated cases.”
Santa Fe has not been free of threatening behavior against people of Arabic or Middle Eastern descent, if not Muslims specifically, in frightening times.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, someone left a racial slur on the window of a Plaza shop owned by man from the Middle East, and also egged and scratched windows at several other downtown businesses. Also, rocks were thrown at a rug shop and a note was left that said, “Terrorists will not be tolerated.” That incident spurred a Plaza vigil to protest the vandalism.
Abdul Aziz said Islam is a religion of peace, and says individuals committing acts of terror are being misled and are taken advantage of, and he says their acts should not reflect the ideas of other Muslims around the world. To him, terrorism has nothing to do with religion.
“I think anyone, whether they are Muslim or Christian or atheist, should be found guilty as an individual and their crimes should not be put on religion,” he said.
Raven Hicks, who owns Real Martial Arts in Santa Fe, offers training classes to anyone who wants to know how to defend themselves in case a gunman is on a rampage. He issued a news release this week to promote his services.
“No one is teaching the fight aspect of it,” Hicks said. “Someone who is completely untrained needs to start thinking like the attacker.”
Hicks, who spent several years as a lieutenant in the Canadian Army and as a Toronto police officer, said people need to be completely aware of their surrounding at all times. He said to always know where the nearest exits are at restaurants and movie theaters to plan an escape, and he encourages people to be alert of what items in the room can potentially be used as weapons against a shooter.
“Fire extinguishers are awesome because you can blind the attacker and they can be used as an impact weapon, as well,” Hicks said. “What else do you have in there? A stapler, a three-hole punch, something heavy?”
Hicks wants to be clear that he trains people to defend themselves against gunmen, not radical Islamists. He notes that most of the mass shootings in America haven’t not been tied to any Islamic terrorist group, and he wants people to be aware that anyone is capable of picking up a weapon and taking innocent lives.
“I think it’s important for people to not get caught up in this as a terrorist thing,” Hicks said. “It’s not that we have to be paranoid against a religion or sect. Most of our mass shootings have been by disgruntled employees or by someone who was bullied. It can be anybody that decides to go crazy. How many of our mass shootings this year have been by Islamic terrorists? They’re not the real threat around here.”