Stephanie Gallegos is owner of the Questa salon, Eternal Cuts, located by Best Care Pharmacy. She moved back to New Mexico from Uvalde, Texas, and has been in Questa for about eight months. She knew some of the victims of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary. When asked what she thought of recent events, there was a long pause before she finally said quietly, “disgusting,” still in disbelief. She was appalled by the comments of Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, who said, “It could have been worse.” Gallegos does not agree. For those families, it could hardly be worse. In April, Abbott had aggressively cut $211 million in mental health program funding. Although one of our most affluent states, Texas ranks last in the country for access to mental health services.
Gallegos is among the majority of US citizens who want to see sensible gun reform. They wonder why an assault weapon was in the hands of a mentally ill young man. Salvador Ramos, 18, lived with his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, and was angry that his grandmother tried to take his gun away two days before the shooting. She did not want firearms in her house. Before he went to Robb Elementary, he shot his grandmother in the face and was being pursued by police (she survived and is in stable condition). Gallegos believes he ducked into the elementary school, which was left unlocked by a teacher who had gone out to her car. Gallegos said that the response from local law enforcement is under investigation. An hour and five minutes went by before law enforcement went in. Finally, specially trained members of the US Border Patrol arrived, who bravely entered the building and stopped the shooter, who died at the scene.
It was difficult to identify the 19 students and two teachers who died from the AK-15 type weapon, which destroys its target—from the inside out. Their bodies and features were unrecognizable and, in the end, only their shoes and clothing were the identifying characteristics. The coroner who was tasked with identifying the dead, is among the students and other Uvalde residents who now suffer from PTSD—it was a troubling and very emotional experience for all involved.
For years, Stephanie cut hair for many Uvalde residents, including the son of Irma Garcia, the 48-year-old teacher who died in her fourth-grade classroom. It was sad for Gallegos to think of the son, now a high school student, as well as his three siblings who just lost their mother to gun violence. And this story became even more sad; Irma’s husband of 24 years, Joe Garcia, age 50, died of a heart attack after placing flowers at the memorial site, just two days after the shooting.
Why is gun violence such a problem in our country? Gallegos agrees that our youth are raised with violence in the media: television, movies, and video games. Adults and children are conditioned to accept all forms of violence as just what happens, a part of life. It seems normal, and we are used to it.
So far in 2022, there have been over 8,000 deaths in the US from gun violence. Every year it gets worse, and every year nothing is done. Students from Parkland High School in Florida, which was the scene of a horrific slaughter in 2018, have stood up to take action. They said, “ENOUGH.” They influenced Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature to pass legislation, signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott. The Florida state laws raised the age to buy long guns, including AR-15-style rifles, from 18 to 21; required a three-day waiting period between when a firearm is purchased and when the buyer can get access to that gun; and allowed trained school staff to carry guns. While not all concerned citizens wanting gun control agree with these measures, the point is that something was done.
Florida also put $400 million toward mental health services and school security. The legislators created an extreme risk law, or “red flag” law, that can bar individuals from possessing firearms if they are thought to pose a danger to themselves or others. With more and more mass shootings, measures such as these are drawing bipartisan support, both on the federal level and by other states.
The only reason Florida passed these laws is because young Parkland High School survivors demanded it. If you agree that there have been enough lives lost to gun violence, please speak out, take a stand, and tell politicians to do something about it. If your representatives in Washington or Santa Fe take money from the gun lobby, chances are they will not vote for change, so don’t vote for them. Vote for those policy makers who will make a difference and have your best interests at heart.