Chris Blumenstein of Santa Fe waited in a line of cars, feeling both dread and relief as he prepared to get rid of his handgun.
“I don’t like guns,” he said. “I wish there were no guns in our society.”
He bought the Smith & Wesson .38-caliber pistol 10 years ago while on an extended camping trip in Seattle.
Now, “I have a young niece. If she came to visit and something horrible happened, that would be life-altering,” said Blumenstein, who was disturbed by the recent on-set shooting death involving actor Alec Baldwin near Santa Fe. “It just makes me realize that you just can’t plan for contingencies — that anything could happen.”
He and dozens of others took part in a gun buyback Saturday hosted by the nonprofit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence along with the Santa Fe Police Department and the city. Event organizers invited the public to surrender unwanted firearms with no questions asked in exchange for gift cards.
“This is about getting guns that people no longer want to have in their homes, that could fall into the wrong hands, because oftentimes, you’re keeping them in a closet or under a mattress,” said Deputy Chief Ben Valdez. “We don’t want that [firearm] used for a tragic incident.”
A line of cars had already formed when the event started at 9 a.m. outside Santa Fe Municipal Court. Gun owners were instructed to bring their unwanted firearms, unloaded, in the trunks of their vehicles.
Volunteers removed the firearms and brought them to a checkpoint, run by the police department, where the weapons were inspected to ensure they weren’t loaded. From there, the guns were brought to a second checkpoint, where they were catalogued. Police ran the serial number of each weapon to ensure it wasn’t stolen.
Cleared guns were brought to a third checkpoint, where they were chopped into pieces with the use of a circular saw. The scrap metal is set to be forged into garden tools.
In exchange for the firearms, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence provided gift cards from Albertsons Market, Amazon, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Food King. The group traded $250 in gift cards for an assault weapon, $200 for a semi-automatic handgun or semi-automatic rifle and $100 for a long gun or pistol. The gift cards were funded by private donations.
Bob Hazen, 76, of Santa Fe was turning in three weapons: a 12-gauge shotgun, .38-caliber pistol and 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.
“Don’t need them anymore. Just cluttering up the house,” he said. “I used to hunt some years back — birds, deer.”
Lori Shepard of Santa Fe has been volunteering at gun buybacks for New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence since 2018. She said she does it “to prevent needless deaths as a result of guns.”
Shepard, now a clinical social worker, used to work in the trauma unit at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
“Seeing a 3-year-old be able to shoot a gun is very concerning,” she said. “Why are guns so easy that a 3-year-old can shoot and injure themselves?”
Mayor Alan Webber said at the buyback, “We can get them off the street and in exchange give the family something back that they need more than a potentially dangerous gun in the wrong place.”
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence was founded in 2013 and has hosted 13 gun buyback events — four of them with Santa Fe police.
Group co-President Miranda Viscoli said she helped found the grassroots nonprofit after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
She said many are concerned about gun violence in New Mexico “because our numbers are so bad.”
“Gun buybacks are one of our programs,” Viscoli said. “We also do murals with students around New Mexico on gun violence prevention.”
“We’ve passed three gun violence prevention laws to date,” she said. “And now we’re working [with the governor] on an Office of Gun Violence Prevention and Intervention, so that we can actually rein in the issue of gun violence in New Mexico.”
At the start of Saturday’s event, Viscoli said the group had collected 940 firearms at its various events. After the three-hour buyback ended, it had 72 more, she said.