Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Editorial: We all have a role in stemming plague of youth gun violence

Corn Pop may have been a “bad dude.” But in Joe Biden’s youth, the neighborhood gang leader was armed only with a straight-razor.

Biden says Corn Pop threatened to cut him outside a Delaware pool where the future president worked as a lifeguard in 1962. Instead of calling the cops, Biden says he faced off with Corn Pop and other gang members, armed only with a 6-foot chain . Corn Pop reportedly backed down.

If someone were so bold today, chances are he or she would likely be gunned down.

While knives and chains can be deadly weapons, gun violence, particularly juvenile gun violence, has become a scourge in Albuquerque. Local police say they’re seeing an increase in violent crime by increasingly younger offenders.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, it always happens to somebody else.’ But those somebody elses are getting so close,” Albuquerque parent Liz Hernandez says. “It’s not happening to other people anymore. It’s happening here.”

Just this school year, two teenagers were shot and killed at or near their Albuquerque schools.

Sixteen-year-old Andrew Burson was shot and killed Feb. 25 next to the football field at West Mesa High School. Police say Burson and 14-year-old Marcos Trejo were involved in a dispute over a ghost gun purchased on the internet when Trejo shot Burson multiple times.

Thirteen-year-old Bennie Hargrove was shot Aug. 13 at Washington Middle School and later died at a hospital. Police say Hargrove confronted 13-year-old fellow eighth-grader Juan Saucedo Jr. about bullying when Saucedo pulled a gun and shot him multiple times. Prosecutors say Saucedo Jr. brought his father’s gun to school in a backpack and showed it to multiple children prior to the shooting. Tragically, no one reported seeing anything.

Nineteen-year-old Vincent Phuc Loc Le was shot and killed Feb. 26 at Westgate Community Park. Police say 15-year-old Michael Salinas Jr., who was involved in a dispute over a stolen phone, waited for a group of people to show up, and when they did, allegedly fired an AR-style rifle, riddling the car with at least 17 bullets, killing Loc Le and wounding three others.

On Halloween, back-to-back parties packed with teens erupted in shootouts across Albuquerque that left several injured or dead. Police say a group of four young men that included a juvenile showed up at an apartment party and attempted to rob one man of his shoes before gunfire erupted. One of the victims was a juvenile.

A gunfight between high schoolers in a parking lot adjacent to Sandia High in September left a student shot at least three times. In March, a fight among students outside Albuquerque High ended in a drive-by shooting at a nearby park that left two injured.

The list, unfortunately, goes on. And on.

Vicki Price, senior director of counseling at Albuquerque Public Schools, says there have always been fights between students, but the weapon involvement is new and concerning. Price suggests parents and guardians meet their children’s friends, keep up with what they’re doing and not underestimate the power of the family dinner and other quality time. Hernandez, mother of three, says teens often know who’s armed and are just afraid to say something.

A juvenile in New Mexico charged with possessing a handgun just faces a misdemeanor. A bill named after Hargrove that would have made it a crime for adults to recklessly store a firearm a minor gains access to failed in the regular session. These are true public safety, not political, issues.

Gangs and disputers no longer battle it out with fists and chains like a 1950s Hollywood rumble. They’re shooting it out instead. That’s why it’s more important than ever for parents to connect with kids, adults to secure their firearms and youths to report when they see something wrong.

This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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