Sparks flew and the smell of hot metal drifted across the yard at the Taos County Sheriff's Office Saturday afternoon (May 20) as more than 40 firearms turned in during Taos' inaugural "Guns to Gardens Gun Buyback" were sawed apart for what organizers described as a good cause.
"We got 42 [firearms] in all," said Miranda Viscoli, 40, founder of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization whose mission, she says, was motivated by the shooting of 20 school children at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
"The firearms included two assault weapons, four semi-automatic handguns and a sawed-off shotgun," she said. "About 35 people dropped them off."
Viscoli said Saturday's turnout was one of the best her organization has seen at any of the three "buyback" events it has hosted across the state, with the turning in of assault weapons being a first for the non-profit.
Men and women of all ages pulled into the Taos County Sheriff's Office parking lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with other interesting weapons, too – including shotguns, long rifles, 1920s-era snubnosed revolvers and even a replica black-powder rifle.
While participants remained anonymous, organizers said that some were women whose husbands had passed away and had left behind weapons they no longer needed or wanted. Others were former target shooters, or hunters, now out of the game and looking to turn over their unused weapons in exchange for a gift certificate to one of several retailers, including Best Buy, CVS, gas stations, Albertsons, Smith's or Target.
And several participants stuck around to see their weapons dismantled onsite before being converted into art projects and useful equipment.
Jeremy Thomas, a sculpture and metal fabrication instructor at Santa Fe Community College, selected each of the 42 weapons from a pile on the sidewalk at the Sheriff's Office, placed it securely in a vice and cut it cleanly in two with a power saw. Thomas said that the metal parts will be utilized by students at the college to create sculptures and gardening tools in a forging class set for the fall semester.
Welding and sculpture students at RAW Tools, an art collective based out of Colorado, will also get a portion of the spare parts to use in their own projects.
But the real mission on Saturday was to reduce the number of dangerous weapons on Taos streets – a goal Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said he is happy to see furthered by New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Statistically, you're more likely to have a gun stolen from your home or auto than to ever use it in defense of yourself or another," Hogrefe said, also noting that some of the weapons turned in were illegal to possess. "People that don't conceal-carry or have these weapons on their person, they're prone to be stolen and so I'm glad that these were turned in so that, potentially, they aren't stolen from home or an auto where they could be used in other crimes."
For more information, visit newmexicanstopreventgunviolence.org.