Gun violence throughout the United States is something Americans know all too well. From Columbine to Newtown, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso and Uvalde, these massacres are impacting the lives of thousands of people across the country including two New Mexico student activists who are co-leading a new statewide chapter of the national organization, Students Demand Action.
Leighanne Muñoz, Students Demand Action of New Mexico co-leader, says the group’s goal is to bring more awareness to gun violence within the community.
“We are a subgroup of the whole Students Demand, which is a group that fights for gun safety and fights against gun violence. We are a subgroup of a bigger parent organization called Everytown, and they were founded after the Sandy Hook shooting,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz, a sophomore at NMSU, explained that gun violence in recent years has made people fearful of going places and living freely. This is especially true for students who are subjected to lockdown drills at a young age.
“What we do as a whole is we try to fight for better gun legislation, not necessarily gun control. The media may portray it as trying to take people’s guns away, but more so trying to enforce laws, make better laws, and better the country as a whole for students,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz and co-leader, Ivan Torres, are fighting for better legislation and to find a middle ground around the national issue that sparks so much controversy. Torres, a senior at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, elaborated by saying it goes beyond just legislation talk.
“We’re all fighting to end gun violence through our legislative work, through campaigning, to elect advocates for common sense gun reform, and additionally to elevate the voices of survivors of gun violence,” Torres said.
Both Muñoz and Torres have personally experienced the effects of gun violence. Muñoz recalled that her 21-year-old cousin was fatally shot by a Las Cruces police officer in 2019.
“Instead of trying to help him, instead of trying to detain him in a better way, they shot and killed him. He was very, very close to me,” Muñoz said.
Torres says his high school has been a target of potential mass shootings on numerous occasions.
“There was actually an attempted school shooting there [at Cleveland High School] in the past. And more recently, there have been others … but honestly it feels like they are just kind of a time and a clock ticking from the last attempted one to the next one,” Torres explained.
Muñoz and Torres met in Washington D.C. this summer at a conference with other student leaders who are advocating for gun control. This was when they realized a New Mexico chapter had not been established. The duo decided to initiate a statewide chapter shortly after their trip, with Torres covering the northern part of the state, and Muñoz taking the southern region.
“I hope that bringing the awareness here and actually bringing it up to people’s attention will push better gun legislation in our state,” Muñoz said. “We’re still building it and we’re hoping to find more people.”
By starting this chapter, Muñoz and Torres said they want to shed light on the bigger issue of gun violence throughout the state. As demonstrated in 2020, there were 479 gun-related deaths reported in New Mexico and according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 41 of those deaths involved children or teens.
“No one talks about the traumatizing things that it’s done to these students,” Muñoz said. “It’s younger minors who are going through this and we’re not fully grasping and talking about it.”
Students interested in getting involved in the New Mexico chapter of Students Demand Action, or who are interested in starting their own local chapter can message the New Mexico chapter on the group’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.