On May 15, nine people were injured or killed by an 18-year-old male armed with an AR-17 style rifle in a mass shooting in Farmington, New Mexico. Three woman over the age of 70 were killed and 2 police officers injured. The 3 fatal shooting victims have been identified as 79-year-old Shirley Voita, 73-year-old Melody Ivie, and 97-year-old Gwendolyn Schofield. Schofield and Ivie were mother and daughter. Police have identified the suspect as 18-year-old Beau Wilson who was shot and killed by police. Wilson was a student at Farmington High School.
The active shooting unfolded around 11 a.m. in a quiet middle-class neighborhood lined with houses and churches in the heart of Farmington and involving up to a quarter of a mile length of the neighborhood street. Wilson used an AR-style rifle and used a 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber firearm belonging to a family member. Inside the house Wilson shared with his father were 10 other guns although there is no indication that he intended to use them. Police said there were more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition available between what was fired, what was still in the weapons used and what was in the home.
When 18-year-old Wilson stepped out of his father’s house police say he was wearing a bulletproof vest and he had a note in his pocket. The note in Wilson’s pocket was scrawled in green ink and said “If you’re reading this I’m the end of the chapter. … lay eyes or dear put a finger on my little sister. I promise there will be regrets.”
Police say Wilson fired 141 rounds from his house on North Dustin with the assault-style rifle before dropping the weapon in nearby bushes, taking off the vest and walking down the street continuing to fire one handgun and then a second. The shooter fired on at least 6 houses and 3 cars in a “rampage.” The suspect was killed and 2 police officers were shot and wounded in the incident in an exchange of fire. Both officers have been released from the hospital. Police say they are investigating how Wilson obtained the weapons but noted that the shooter purchased one of them legally in November of 2022.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe in briefings said this:
“It isn’t a nice contained scene where our officers are able to keep everything and count stuff pretty easily. … It’s spreading throughout the neighborhood. He’s firing at different people, he’s firing at different cars and buildings as he’s walking, and then he begins discarding stuff. … The suspect randomly fired at whatever entered his head to shoot at. … We are doing the best that we can to … look at the evidence to see if we can figure out what the motivation was. … Our initial report from the family of the suspect is that he was struggling with mental health issues. … We’ll wind up finding what medication if any he was taking, whether he was under a doctor’s care in some form or fashion. … This only goes to the why, or the details, it doesn’t go to the why something like this happened in the first place and how we are going to prevent this.”
“But at this point, it appears to be purely random. … At the end of it, when we had a suspect down, we know we have civilian casualties, we have officers who have been hit and we have fire and EMS responding to the scene before it’s secure. …We still think there’s a possibility of a second shooter in the early stages, nonetheless fire came racing in with their medics to begin treatment on citizens right away. … … Those are the things that frankly keep me up and I agonize over every night as I’m going to bed … to try to figure out how we’re going to keep our citizens safe in the world. … .”
The links to quoted news sources are here:
GOVERNOR RENEWS CALLS FOR ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN
On May 17, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, in response to the Farmington mass shooting, said she would again pursue an assault weapon ban and age restrictions for purchasing firearms. Both proposals were introduced during the 2023 NM legislative session and failed to clear committees in the Senate and House and failed to reach her desk in this year’s 60-day legislative session.
According to Farmington Police, the suspect in the mass shooting purchased a gun legally after turning 18. Police described one of the firearms used in the attack as an “AR-style rifle.” Authorities said they are also looking into indications the shooter had mental health issues.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would keep pursuing ways to reduce gun violence in New Mexico. She said the issue is complex and does not have a quick-fix solution. The Governor said this:
“Gun violence is an intolerable scourge. What happens to these families is unfair, unthinkable and unimaginable. And this entire community, like so many communities across the state and in America, are just grieving, thinking about what the next gun violence safety measure is. Let your policymakers know what you think might have been missed in the work that we’re doing and know that increasing the age is back. An assault on a ban on assault weapons, which doesn’t have universal support in many states, including this one. I am putting it on the table. … I want to be able to go to Farmington and say this will never happen again. I don’t know of a tool that prevents all tragedies. … If there was one thing that would cure it, it would already be done.”
The governor said the state would announce a new initiative next week aimed at curbing gun trafficking. She also said she did not plan to call a special legislative session that would result in partisan “finger-pointing.” However, the Governor left the door open to such action if lawmakers can reach a consensus on contentious crime and gun-related proposals. The Governor said this:
“I would call a special session … if we could pass something that could be implemented in a timely manner.”
Proposals to ban assault weapons have faced strong opposition and skepticism in the Legislature, even among some Democrats. Much of the opposition has centered on how to define what would qualify as an assault weapon and whether a ban would withstand legal scrutiny. Despite reservations on assault weapons bans, leading Democratic legislators also said they are working on bills to establish a 14-day waiting period, expose the sellers of illegal gun modifications to lawsuits and create a registry of people who already own assault weapons.
Las Cruces Democrat State Senator Joseph Cervantes, who has expressed reservations about an assault weapons ban, expressed optimism about the prospects for imposing a 14-day waiting period on gun sales to allow authorities extra time to complete a background check on the buyer. Cervantes, a respected trial attorney, is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and said lawmakers must take care to craft gun laws that will withstand legal scrutiny. He said he is prepared to renew his push to amend the state Unfair Practices Act to target online sellers of illegal gun modifications. Cervantes said this:
“I’m hoping my colleagues won’t forget the events in Farmington this week when we meet again. … It’s not ever enough to pass a law that makes good press and allows us to pat one another on the back, but really has no meaningful impact. … It’s not ever enough to pass a law that makes good press and allows us to pat one another on the back, but really has no meaningful impact”
Santa Fe Democrat State Representative Andrea Romero said she is working on waiting-period legislation. She is also revisiting a previous proposal to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons. According to Romero the new version of the bill would be modeled on the semiautomatic weapons ban passed in Illinois and establish a registry for people who already own such guns. Romero said this of Farmington’s mass shooting:
“It’s just heartbreaking. … As we heal from all of this, it’s ‘what can we do next?’… That’s where my mindset is.”
Las Cruces Democrat Senator Carrie Hamblen said the young age of the shooting suspect in Farmington underscores the need to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles. Hamblen said this:
“We will continue to pursue legislation that is about responsible gun ownership.”
Many of this year’s gun safety bills encountered fierce resistance from Republican lawmakers and other opponents who said they would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter crime. Not at all surprising Republican lawmakers said Democrats lawmakers should focus on meaningful funding for mental health services, not “anti-gun rhetoric.” House Republican spokesman Matt Garcia-Sierra said this in a written statement:
“One of the root causes of the crime epidemic sweeping this progressive state is the fact that little has been done to address mental health access and delivery despite the billions in surplus tax revenue over the 5 years of Lujan Grisham’s tenure. … [New Mexicans] are seeking action that addresses the root causes, not just political spin that looks good on a postcard or newspaper headline.”
The 2023 New Mexico 60-day legislative session had upwards of 40-gun control measures introduced, but only 10 were seriously considered and of those 10, only 2 made it through the session to become law. Advocacy groups like New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence feels like more should have been done. Miranda Viscoli, the co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence said 3 things need to be done and said this:
“It was an extremely disappointing session. … [First] we need to pass common-sense gun violence prevention laws. [Second] we need gun owners to lock up their guns. There are way too many stolen guns out there, and they’re getting into the hands of children. And three, we really need to come together as a state and as a country and say, this isn’t working.”
The link to quoted news source materials are here:
MASS SHOOTINGS ON THE RISE
As of May 21, 2023, the year has seen more mass killings to date than any other year since data collection started in 2006. There have been 553 mass killings in the United States since 2006, and at least 2,880 people have died, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. Those include killings where four or more died, not including the assailant, within a 24-hour period. So far in 2023, the nation has witnessed the highest number on record of mass killings and deaths to this point in a single year.
NEW MEXICO’S ALARMING FIREARM FATALITY RATE
The backdrop to all the proposed gun control measures that were considered by the 2023 New Mexico legislature are New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s high crime rates. Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles data from police agencies across the nation. The data has showed New Mexico has the nation’s second highest rate of total crimes against persons.
NEW MEXICO CRIME RATES
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest despite the enactment in recent years of laws extending background check requirements for gun purchases and allowing firearms to be temporarily seized from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The FBI numbers show New Mexico’s per-population kidnapping and abduction rate was the highest in the nation. New Mexico’s firearm ownership and fatality rate is also among the nation’s highest. In 2016 over 37% of adults in the state lived in a household with a firearm which is 5% higher than the national average according to the think tank Rand Corp.
In 2021 New Mexico law enforcement reported over 28,000 crimes against persons. That includes crimes such as murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. Given New Mexico’s population, the state’s crime rate against persons per population is the second highest in the nation. FBI data shows for every 100,000 people in New Mexico, law enforcement reported 2,189 crimes against persons in 2021. The only state with a higher rate was Arkansas, which reported 2,276 crimes per 100,000 people.
New Mexico law enforcement agencies reported nearly 25,500 instances of assault in 2021. That’s 1,872 more than the state reported in 2020. New Mexico law enforcement also reported more homicides in 2021 than the year before. Across New Mexico, police reported 193 homicides to the FBI in 2021. That’s 67 more than in 2020. Not at all surprising is that the majority of the state’s reported homicides were in Albuquerque.
New Mexico is not at the top of the list in all crime categories. While New Mexico law enforcement reported 1,663 instances of sex offenses in 2021, 6 other states had higher rates of sex offenses per population. That includes states like Alaska, Utah, and Montana.
New Mexico law enforcement reported 822 kidnappings and abductions to the FBI in 2021. That puts New Mexico at the top of the list regarding kidnappings and abductions per 100,000 people. Kansas, Colorado, and Utah also rank high on the list of kidnappings and abductions per population.
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there were a total of 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries. This figure is up significantly from the 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020. Of the 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearms, 319 cases, were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides. In New Mexico, the rate of 14.9 firearm-related deaths per every 100,000 residents in 2010 nearly doubled over the last decade and there were 23 such deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2020.
ALBUQUERQUE AT FOREFRONT OF CRIME WAVE
Albuquerque is at the forefront of New Mexico’s high violent crime rate. According to legislative data released, the city had about half of the state’s violent crime in 2022 but has just 25% or so of its total population. The Albuquerque Police Department reported that in November, 2022 gun law violations spiked 85%.
The last two years have also been two very violent years for Albuquerque. The number of homicides in the city have broken all-time records. In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self-defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 120 homicides, a historical high.
On Thursday, March 16, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the 2022 crime statistics along with crime statistics for 2022 for a comparison. During his March 16 press conference announcing the City’s 2022 crime statistics, APD Chief Harold Medina embellished that a 3% drop in overall total of crime and a 4% decrease in Crimes Against Persons and the 2% decrease in Crimes Against Property was positive movement.
The slight 3% decrease in overall crime was over shadowed by the 24% spike in CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY which are largely made up of drug and gun offenses and a 71% increase in murders over the last 6 years. Chief Medina presented a vertical bar graph that revealed that over the last 6 years, Albuquerque has had a dramatic 71% spike in homicides. The number of homicides reported over the last 6 years is as follows:
2017: 70 homicides
2018: 69 homicides
2019: 80 homicides
2020: 78 homicides
2021: 110 homicides
2022: 120 homicides
On March 16, in addition to reporting that there has been a 71% spike in homicides, APD officials reported that over the past 6 years there has been a 28% increase in Aggravated Assaults which by definition includes the use of a firearms. Following are the Aggravated Assaults numbers:
Crime rates in Albuquerque are high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021. These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities.
All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft. The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.
ALBUQUERQUE IS RANKED 17TH AMONG 70 OF THE LARGEST CITIES
On April 26, the Major Cities Chiefs Association released its Violent Crime Survey and national totals for the crimes of homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. According to the report, Albuquerque is ranked 17th among 70 of the largest cities in the nation looking at trends in the 4 categories. The single most troubling statistic is Albuquerque’s increase in homicides.
The statistics for Albuquerque reported by the Major Cities Chiefs Association for the last two years were as follows:
The Major Cities Chiefs Association report shows in 2022, there was a 5% drop in homicides nationwide. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Albuquerque had one of the worst homicide rates in the nation and is one of 27 cities across the nation that saw an increase in homicides.
The report shows in 2021, there were 106 homicides. In 2022, there were 115, an 8% increase. Other nearby cities like Phoenix saw a 13% increase in homicides. Meanwhile, to the north, the Denver Police Department reported an 8% decrease in homicides. Just four hours south, the city of El Paso saw a 28% decrease in homicides, one of the highest drops in the report.
Click to access MCCA-Violent-Crime-Report-2022-and-2021-Midyear.pdf
THE BIGGER PICTURE
On Thursday, March 16, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the 2022 crime statistics along with crime statistics for 2021 for a comparison. APD Chief Harold Medina reported Albuquerque crime statistics as follows:
CRIMES AGAINST PERSONS
EDITORS NOTE: Crimes Against Persons include murder, rape, and assault, and are those in which the victims are always individuals.
2022: 12,777 (4% DECREASE)
CRIMES AGAINST PROPERTY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Crimes Against Property include robbery, bribery, and burglary, or to obtain money, property, or some other benefit.
2022: 43,824 (2% DECREASE)
CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Crimes Against Society include gambling, prostitution, and drug violations, and represent society’s prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity and are typically victimless crimes.
2022: 5,133 (24% INCREASE)
2023 LEGISLATIVE SESSION RECALLED
When the 2023 New Mexico 60 day legislative session began on January 17, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her “State of the State” address announced her support of the following 4 gun control measures:
- Banning the sale of AR-15-style rifles.
- Allowing crime victims to sue gun manufacturers.
- Making it a crime to fail to properly secure a firearm that’s accessible to an unsupervised minor.
- Closing a loophole in state law to allow prosecution when a person buys a gun for a someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves, a transaction known as a straw purchase.
Only 2 of the 4 measure’s the Governor endorsed were enacted by the legislature. The 2 measures enacted and signed into law were:
House Bill 9. This bill is referred to as the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act also known as “Bennies Bill” and makes it a misdemeanor to negligently allow a child access to a firearm and would make it a felony if that negligence resulted in someone dying or suffering great bodily harm.
House Bill 306. This bill is directed at “straw purchases” of firearms and making it illegal to buy a firearm on behalf of someone who’s not allowed to have it or intends to use in a crime.
GUN CONTROL MEASURES THAT FAILED
There were 10 major gun-control measure bills introduced and seriously considered in the New Mexico House or Senate. Eight of those bills were:
House Bill 50 would have prohibited magazines with more than 10 rounds.
House Bill 72 would have prohibited the possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly.
House Bill 100 would have established a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of any firearm and requires a prospective seller who doesn’t already hold a valid federal firearms license to arrange for someone who does to conduct a federal background check prior to selling a firearm.
House Bill 101 would have made it a fourth-degree felony to purchase, possess, manufacture, import, sell or transfer assault weapons in the state. It would restrict the sale, manufacture and possession of AR-15-style rifles along with semiautomatic firearms.
Senate Bill 44 would have made it a misdemeanor to carry a firearm within 100 feet of a polling location on election day or during early voting. On-duty law enforcement officers and security personnel would be exempt.
Senate Bill 116 would have established a minimum age of 21 for anyone seeking to purchase or possess an automatic firearm, semiautomatic firearm or firearm capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine. The bill would have effectively raised the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21.
Senate Bill 171 sought to ban the manufacture, sale, trade, gift, transfer or acquisition of semiautomatic pistols that have two or more defined characteristics.
Senate Bill 428 would have revised the state’s Unfair Practices Act to target the sale of illegal firearms and parts, allowing the filing of lawsuits to enforce the act.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Violent crime and gun violence is simply out of control. The Farmington mass shooting combined with New Mexico’s and the City of Albuquerque’s violent crime and murder rates clearly establish that there are in fact “dramatic circumstances” that exist right now that justify a special session and not wait until the 2024 legislative session.
Governor Michelle Lujan should call a special session to deal with crime and punishment as well as gun control. Crime and punishment must be balanced with reasonable gun control to be effective in bringing down crime and to stop mass shootings.
If Governor Lujan Grisham is indeed sincere about calling a special session, a much different approach needs to be taken because the State’s crime crisis is very real and will remain until something is done. All the gun control legislation in the 2023 legislative session taken separately was piecemeal at best. The legislation failed to strike a balance between gun control and enhanced penalties for the commission of crime with guns.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham should seek the enactment of an “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Violent Act” that could be enacted by a special session. The “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act” would include the following gun regulation measures:
- Outlaw possession and sale assault weapon style weapons such as AR-15-style rifles and pistols with magazines of 10 rounds or more making it a third degree felony with a 6 year mandatory sentence.
- Outlaw the sale of “ghost guns” parts.
- Outlaw possession of semiautomatic firearm converters.
- Limit all retail gun purchases of all types of guns per person to one gun per month.
- Institute mandatory extended waiting period to a full month for gun purchases.
- Outlaw the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
- Allow crime victims to sue gun manufacturers for actual and punitive damages.
- Require the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold.
- Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
- Expand gun ownership age limitation to age 19 for rifles and shotguns.
- Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones making it a third-degree felony.
- Call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a statewide vote and would ensure a healthy debate.
There must be a zero tolerance of crimes commited with firearms. The following crime and sentencing provisions should be included in the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act”:
- Making possession of a handgun by someone who commits a crime an aggravated third-degree felony mandating a 6-year minimum sentence.
- Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for the brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent felony in which a firearm is brandished 12 years.
- Create a new category of enhanced sentencing for use of a lethal weapon or deadly weapon other than a firearm where there is blandishment of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years
- Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area a second-degree felony mandating a 9-year sentence.
- Allow firearm offenses used in a drug crime to be charged separately.
- Change bail bond to statutorily empower judges with far more discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime reported incidents without shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.
- Mandate public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.
- Cases of juveniles arrested in possession of a weapon are to be referred the District Attorney for automatic prosecution as an adult for sentencing.
The “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act” must include funding for the criminal justice system. This would include funding District Attorney’s Offices, the Public Defender’s Office, the Courts and the Corrections Department.
The failure of the 2023 New Mexico legislature to enact reasonable and responsible gun control legislation is very difficult to accept. Democrats hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 in the Senate. It’s a damn shame more was not done and Democrats do look foolish on the issue of failing to enact reasonable and responsible gun control measure that will bring down crime and save lives. Until the New Mexico Legislature, especially Democrats, get serious and aggressive about responsible gun control and crime and punishment, the State will continue to suffer high violent crime rates as well as more mass shootings.