The music, art and presentations by young people at Taos Plaza and the TCA on March 14 were moving in the truest sense of the word. The #NeverAgain movement is making a difference because now the students are taking the wheel, and the elders are taking the back seat. Nationwide demonstrations on March 24 continued the momentum toward sensible gun controls.
This is the word from the front lines: Students (and teachers) have had enough. Many of these activists are not old enough to vote, but they aren't asking to lower the voting age--they want to raise the age to purchase any gun to 21. New Mexico's students also want universal background checks and a ban on weapons of war in our streets and schools. And they don't want their teachers to be armed.
Taos students are making sure Gov. Susana Martinez and every other politician understand that the status quo on gun violence and schools will not be tolerated. Young citizens are calling loudly and clearly for effective changes to be made at least here in our own state.
To start with, students, parents, teachers and everyone else should demand that legislators finally start allocating adequate funding for education. An additional 5 percent of the state's $17 billion Land Grant Fund should be invested in a brighter, safer future for all New Mexicans.
It is way past time for this state to massively increase spending on childhood education, school budgets (including universities), youth counseling services and security improvements, such as metal doors, cameras, and safe rooms. We also need a voluntary buy-back program for assault-style weapons. The money the state invests in these changes should be repaid to the Land Grant Permanent Fund by increasing taxes and royalties on oil and gas extraction in New Mexico and instituting a more progressive state income tax.
State legislators' refusal to invest more of the land grant billions in better education and students' health and welfare reminds me, frankly, of the deputy who stood outside the Parkland high school and did nothing while 17 people died. The results of lawmakers' short-sighted budget priorities could be equally disastrous for New Mexico's schoolchildren and teachers.
The 2018 legislature did approve $10 million yearly for school security for the next four years. But that is not enough for the needs of the 89 school districts in the state. Taos County schools alone could use $10 million this year. For example, the Peñasco Elementary and High School campus needs fencing and many other improvements. Taos High also needs investments in safer buildings and money for full-time officers, which would not be covered by the school security bill.
It is time for Taos County to pass progressive laws to increase revenues from corporations and the wealthy without raising taxes on homeowners, small businesses or agricultural land. We should use that money for safer school buildings and officers at every school that requests it. This is especially needed in the "hinterlands" of the county, such as the Peñasco area, where police response times have consistently been too slow.
All these changes will not be enough. Citizens in Taos and New Mexico need to protect their children and themselves by voting for a ban on sales of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. The NRA would have us believe that such a law would be unconstitutional, but that is not true.
A federal ban on these weapons existed from 1994 to 2004, and prohibitions on assault-style rifles have been passed in several states. In Connecticut, the law against assault weapons has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in multiple-shooting deaths.
Because of opposition from the national gun lobby and corruption in Washington, real progress to reduce gun violence is only possible at the state level. We deserve the peace of mind that will come with the changes that Taos students have been passionately speaking out for.
It is time for New Mexico's elected representatives to hear these brave young activists and pass legislation establishing that assault-style weapons will be reserved for the military and police and the sale of assault rifles to civilians will be illegal.
Most New Mexicans would probably agree that the urgency of the issues facing students right now justifies calling a special session of the legislature. If a single life can be saved, it will be worth it.
Jerry Yeargin is the progressive candidate for county commissioner for District 5. He can be reached at (575)758-3327. His campaign fund is at gofundme.com, search jerryyeargin.