Website memorializes shooting victims to reduce gun violence

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Hundreds of shooting deaths are recorded each year in New Mexico. A new project, The Face of Gun Violence, was started by two concerned New Mexico residents and New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, a Santa Fe-based nonprofit. At the heart of the initiative is an effort to restore the personal impact caused by shootings by memorializing victims and telling their stories.

In doing so, their hope is to begin moving the dial toward fewer gun deaths in New Mexico.

Retired New Mexico history teacher Ron Schwartz and environmental activist Yusef Lovato worked in conjunction with the nonprofit to house the project on a website, thefaceofgunviolencenm.com, which couples the New Mexico firearm death count – year-by-year – with photos and vignettes for each victim.

Scrolling through each year presents a wall of faces and stories.

Several of those memorialized are from Taos County, including Destiny Valdez, a 23-year-old Ranchos de Taos mother who was shot and killed this year at a gas station in Taos on Feb. 3, as well as the five victims who died during Damian Herrera’s string of killings throughout Taos and Rio Arriba counties in June.

Lovato said that this design seeks an “emotional appeal.”

“I thought that if the public could ‘feel’ and ‘see’ the consequences of gun violence, then maybe something might change,” he said. “There are so many stories to tell, but thanks to New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence ... who helped us track the stories, we are making a lot of progress.”

Schwartz completed much of the back-end work on the website, which still appears to be under construction in some areas and is missing information in others. Some notices of data are “unknown” and some victims are simply listed as “John Doe.” But the mission of the project remains clear. The intended emotional impact is not lost. The walls of victims faces hit home in a way statistics can’t.

But the numbers still speak loudly, said Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. “In 2015, 405 people were shot and killed in our state,” she said. “That is 405 too many.”

By comparison, 336 people died by firearms in New Mexico in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. New Mexico ranked as the state with the seventh highest gun death rate, with 15.8 residents killed per 100,000 people. Viscoli believes the year-over-year increases the state has experienced can be traced back to gun laws that are less restrictive than those in other states, she said. “New Mexico has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and some of the worst gun violence,” she said. “That correlation is no coincidence. This invaluable website will create much needed awareness on the issue of gun violence in New Mexico.”

Schwartz hopes the project will strike a cord with all New Mexico residents, regardless of where they stand on gun regulation or whether they have ever had gun violence touch their lives.

“All gun deaths are relevant and have both a psychological and monetary cost to us whether we know the victim(s) or not,” he said. “The Face of Gun Violence offers an opportunity to learn the personal stories of some of the victims while providing ideas for action that can make all of our lives safer.”

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