Two significant reports on crime in the city—one done at year’s end and the most recent just three months ago—demonstrate that the progressive efforts of Mayor Tim Keller and the Albuquerque City Council have paid off.
At a press conference held at the very end of March, Mayor Keller met with citizens to tell a story of success. The report was historic, according to the administration, because it documented the first continuous decrease in metro area criminality in about a decade.
Property crime—residential burglary and auto theft—has decreased, by 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Additionally, incidents of violent crime have also seen decreases over a one year period, according to Keller’s report.
Clearly the policies advocated for and instituted by Albuquerque’s progressive local governance system are working. Yet gun violence continues to be problematic in a city whose affinity for gun ownership and use is matched by a nation continuously in debate about the possession and use of firearms in a rapidly changing world.
Here in Burque, the end of March saw 131 nonfatal shootings. That compares to 114 such cases at the same time last year. Aggravated assault crimes only dropped by 4 percent. And while robbery and homicide figures also showed substantive decreases, its clear that violence, especially gun violence, continues haunt the best efforts of our elected officials and the lives of ordinary citizens.
Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier told those gathered that they’ve been working on plans to address this issue. This week, an important aspect of those plans was announced.
City Councilor Pat Davis—the District 6 Councilor that shares Keller’s civic vision—announced a gun buy-back scheduled to happen this Saturday, July 13, from 10am until 2pm at the Cesar Chavez Community Center (7505 Kathyrn Ave. SE).
This city-changing event involves a partnership between Davis, Keller, BernCo DA Raul Torrez, APD and Crime Stoppers. Funds for the buy-back—to the tune of $30,000—comes from local bonds.
On Tuesday morning before press time, Weekly Alibi caught up with Pat Davis. We asked the City Councilor to explain the upcoming event, and why preventing gun violence is key to Albuquerque’s healthy growth.
Weekly Alibi: Tell everyone about the gun buy-back program you are sponsoring this coming weekend.
Pat Davis: Last year I convened a group of community folk to start looking at answers to gun violence, things that we could do [as a city] despite the federal and state laws that don’t let us pass our own gun control ordinances. We did a couple of things. One of those was a gun tip hotline at Crime Stoppers. We also increased our investment in some youth violence prevention programs in the International District. The community I represent recommended another gun buy-back program too. So I set money aside—$30,000 from last year for that.
Where did that 30 large come from? Was it allocated to be specifically used in your district?
Yeah, actually. That’s a great question. It’s part of a bond, actually. Councilor-directed dollars that I have for projects in District 6. We’re using bond dollars because the guns that we buy are going to be provided to artists to create some kind of art about gun violence.
So you literally are beating our swords into ploughshares, que no?
Yeah, sort of. There is an artist in New Mexico who has the project and does just that, but I’m hip to that idea, absolutely.
You said that federal and state law prevent the City of Albuquerque from enacting our own gun laws. Some citizens may not be clear about that. Could you please explain?
On the federal side, for years, Congress has just stood in the way of us passing local background check laws. They won’t let the CDC use federal dollars to study gun violence as a public health issue. That means that the state and the city cannot use federal dollars to deal with gun violence as a public health issue. In the state, back in the ’90s, the NRA helped to pass a statewide constitutional amendment that said that only the State Legislature can enact gun laws. That’s the reason you see laws passed in cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe—that call for background checks, banning guns at open meetings or limiting the size of magazines for example—being overturned by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Why are gun buy-backs definitive ways to reduce gun violence by reducing access, actually permanently removing firearms from further use?
It’s voluntary. It doesn’t take any new laws. So until we get the opportunity to pass laws that we need to hold people accountable for guns, the least we can do is to provide an incentive for people to give up guns they don’t want. If you really get into the data, there was a story a year or so ago in the local daily that reported that about 1000 guns were stolen from cars in the city of Albuquerque in one year.
Wow. That’s a lot of firepower.
And criminals know that. They look for situations where theft of guns is the outcome. Remember Allan Weh, the [New Mexico] Republican Party Chair that ran for [US] Senate a couple of times? Remember he had three guns stolen from his vehicle?
I hear you. I believe auto burglary is one of the main ways criminals get access to guns in Burque. Then the guns just proliferate, spreading around the criminal underground. People leave their guns in the car because vehicles are an extension of the home. These folks can’t carry in public, so the weapon is always at home or in the car.
Yeah. When I was the chair of Crime Stoppers, maybe five years ago now, we did the very first gun buy-back in Albuquerque. Over two weekends—one with APD and the other with the BernCo Sheriff’s Department in the South Valley—we took over 500 guns in that people donated. We ran out of gift cards and people kept bringing in guns. A lot of the citizens turning in guns were seniors who are now caring for grandchildren for the summer or after school. They didn’t want those kids to find the guns. Or they didn’t feel comfortable anymore, possessing a firearm. But they didn’t want to sell the weapon to a gun store that would put it back out in circulation.
They just wanted an end to the gun, basically.
They also might be worried about someone burglarizing their home and stealing a gun. So this is good option for citizens. I’ll tell you, anecdotally, about half of the people that surrendered a gun at the last buy-back five years ago didn’t even want a gift card. They just didn’t want the gun in their house; they wanted a safe way to get rid of it for good.
So what does Joe or Jane Citizen have to do to engage the process?
It’s super simple. Just show up on Saturday, July 13 at 10am at the Cesar Chavez Community Center. No questions asked.
Will participants be asked for an ID?
No ID needed. No fingerprints taken. Nothing like that.
I assume the gun has to be unloaded and disabled?
The weapons to be donated must be unloaded. An APD officer will check to make sure it’s secure and unloaded, then each participant will turn the weapon over to one of our Crime Stoppers volunteers. You don’t even have to turn it in to a police officer. That’s to ensure that the police don’t have a way to track the weapon. At the end of the day, Crime Stoppers is going to donate all the weapons to the gun violence art project. It’s pretty simple. Each participant is then eligible for a gift card—$75 for handguns and pistols and $100 for long guns, rifles and semiautomatic assault rifles—until the money runs out. They’re either Visa or Walmart gift cards.
I get it. Do you think this event is going to bring out citizens who want an end to gun violence?
I think we’re going to see more people who are aware of gun violence. A lot more people are worried about that and about auto and home burglaries aimed at gun theft. We also want to be sure that people in the International District know about this event, so we are sending volunteers—student athletes from Highland High School—door to door with 500 flyers, to engage and communicate with the community about this issue directly.
That’s a fab technique for civic governance!
Yeah, we want young people involved and if you have a gun and you’d rather have $100—then you don’t have to worry about being arrested or getting shot. This is chance for a youth to make money, help the city and become productive. This event should be about families in the International District that have been dealing with gun violence on a personal level, too. We’re providing them a safe way to dispose of a gun.
You all have already been successful lowering the property crime rate, including auto burglary, an issue related to guns that we discussed earlier. Will the gun buy-back further reduce crime in the city?