As gun violence surges across the nation, New Mexico holds one of the highest firearm fatality rates in the United States. Jagdish Khubchandani, an NMSU public health professor, co-authored a study regarding gun-related deaths addressing the “worsening epidemic of firearm mortality” in the June issue of the American Journal of Medicine.
According to the study, 26 states across the nation experienced an increase in youth firearm mortality rates. In New Mexico, the number of gun-related child deaths increased by 45% between 2010 and 2019.
“We have a big problem with guns to the extent that guns are now the leading cause of death in children,” Khubchandani said. “That only happens in the United States. Nowhere else in the world would you see this happening, and it’s always increasing.”
Within the past decade, the nationwide firearm mortality rate increased by 30%, according to the study. Among the 300 mass shootings that have already occurred in 2022, 29 of those massacres were school shootings.
“While we do care about school shootings and how tragic they are, other people are also dying in the community,” Khubchandani said. “They’re killing themselves, killing others, or dying through accidental shootings. This affects everybody in the nation and everyone in our own community.”
In August alone, multiple shootings took place in Doña Ana County. Deputy Chief Justin Dunivan of NMSUPD aided the Las Cruces Police Department in three shootings that occurred near the NMSU main campus.
“We have a big problem with guns to the extent that guns are now the leading cause of death in children. That only happens in the United States. Nowhere else in the world would you see this happening, and it’s always increasing.”
“These sporadic shootings have made it difficult to determine if they were preventable,” Dunivan said. “Luckily, they haven’t been directly on campus. We’re very fortunate with that, but they’ve been too close.”
Based on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS), an estimated 114,354 guns have been sold in New Mexico since the beginning of 2022.
“Gun sales have broken all-time records since the pandemic,” Khubchandani said. “Today, we have more guns than people in this country. Now that the pandemic is going away, those guns are still in people’s hands. Many of those guns will be used to kill others or for people who kill themselves.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides in 2020, while the remaining number were murders or accidental shootings.
“After the pandemic, we’ve had more mental health problems and more access to weapons worldwide,” Khubchandani said. “It could really make a difference if everyone had available programs that prevented suicide or other forms of shootings that involve guns.”
According to Angie Gonzalez, business manager of Aggie Health and Wellness Center, counselors have received over 600 visits from students within the past two months.
“We offer mental wellness resources because we want happy students out there being successful,” Gonzalez said. “The counselors are dedicated, care about the students, and we just want them to be physically and mentally healthy.”
Alongside mental health awareness, Khubchandani says there is a need for greater efforts to reverse the “epidemiological trend” of gun violence.
“Good policies need to be set in place. We need to increase the age limit for buying, provide more training, do background checks before selling, and practice child-access prevention laws that require correct placement of household weapons,” Khubchandani said. This seems to be the only way to ensure lower gun violence issues across the nation and near NMSU.”
In addition to suicide prevention awareness, licensed psychologists are available to NMSU students who seek counseling at the Aggie Health and Wellness Center. Book an appointment online or call (575) 646-1512.