During the last 3 legislative sessions, New Mexico lawmakers have passed bills that addressed gun control. The legislation has included expanding background check requirements for firearm purchases and passage of a “red flag” law that allows guns to be seized from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. More gun safety laws are expected to be introduce during the 2023 legislative session because of the spike in New Mexico firearm-related deaths.
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there were a total of 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries. This figure is up significantly from the 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020. Of the 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearms, 319 cases, were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides. In New Mexico, the rate of 14.9 firearm-related deaths per every 100,000 residents in 2010 nearly doubled over the last decade and there were 23 such deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2020.
The Albuquerque Police Department reported that in November, gun law violations spiked 85% this year alone. The last two years have also been two very violent years for Albuquerque. The number of homicides in the city have broken all-time records. In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self-defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 115 homicides as of December 3, 2022. It has also been reported that there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before. In 2022, there have so far been 18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal. In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.
Crime rates in Albuquerque are high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021. These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities. All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft. The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.
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There are 2 legislative measures that are likely to be introduced for consideration during the 2023 legislative session. Both will be introduced by newly elected Santa Fe Democrat State Representative Reena Szczepanski. The two measures are:
- Raising the minimum age for purchasing AR-15 style rifles from 18 to 21.
- Making the failure to safely store firearms out of children’s reach a crime.
Szczepanski described the bill increasing the age to purchase an assault weapon as closing a loophole and she said this:
“It’s basically closing a bit of a loophole, because right now the age to purchase other types of handguns, is 21. And so we’re looking at just this incremental approach.”
Szczepanski said this about the gun safety storage bill:
“Firearms have increased to become the leading cause of death for children. …This is a huge public health crisis now for children. … [The safely storing firearms] bill … is really geared at keeping children safe, keeping children safe in their homes, and really addressing responsible storage. … I think we can do this in a way gun owners can support and that addresses safety.”
Albuquerque area Democrat Representative Pamelya Herndon said she plans to again sponsor legislation to make it a crime for adults to fail to keep their firearms out of the reach of children. Herdon’s legislation came about as a result of the 2021 killing of eighth-grader Bennie Hargrove at Jefferson Middle school. The legislation is supported by a group of Albuquerque students who have mobilized against gun violence.
Herndon’s legislation failed during the last session due to concerns about possible unintended consequences and she said changes to the legislation will be made to address critics concerns. Critics argued the firearm storage bill would place responsible gun owners in jeopardy of facing criminal charge. In response, Herndon said this:
“The purpose of the legislation is not to create another criminal penalty but the purpose of the legislation is to remind gun owners and firearm owners that you have a responsibility to keep those firearms safely secured if you decide to own on. And when you are negligent in that responsibility there will be a penalty. It is not the goal to just criminalize people, but we want them to be aware of their responsibilities if they intend to be gun owners. .. We addressed those and we need specific exclusions because we know people can’t be in control of all situations. Changes to the proposed law will include indemnifying adults whose guns are obtained by minors during robberies.”
METRO CRIME INITIATIVE
On December 14, Mayor Tim Keller, APD Chief Harold Medina and state legislators gave an update on the Metro Crime Initiative (MCI) and announced legislation they are hoping to get passed during the upcoming legislative session.
One proposed bill would increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area from a petty misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony. Another proposed bill would allow firearms used in a drug crime to be charged separately.
Other bills MCI is pushing for pertain to officers. One bill aims to retain officers by having the state help pay for health benefits once an officer has served for 25 years. Another bill focuses on recruitment, allowing officers from another state with at least five years’ experience to more easily transfer into a job here, without starting over.
Another bill focuses on the fentanyl crisis and would allow funds to be locally for drug education and investigative technology.
A bill sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat Representative Marian Matthews will try to tackle organized retail crime by giving new tools to prosecutors to charge offenders. It includes making sure the robbery statute applies to more offenses and making sure the value merchandise stolen among different stores can be aggregated, so penalties can reflect ‘the damage done.’
Before becoming Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham was a strong advocate of gun control during her years in congress. During her first term as Governor, Lujan Grisham pushed lawmakers to pass gun safety legislation. She said through a spokeswoman she plans to continue that effort during the 2023 legislative session. Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said this:
“The governor will pursue a robust package of common-sense gun safety legislation in the upcoming session, the details of which will be decided in the coming weeks. … The governor is clear: New Mexicans are beyond sick and tired of crime, and gun violence continues to be a nationwide scourge that warrants immediate and outcomes-focused attention.”
EXPECT FIERCE OPPOSTION
All the gun control legislation will face fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and likely all New Mexico Sherriff’s. Most New Mexico sheriffs strenuously opposed the 2021 “red flag” gun law bill advocated by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that allows law enforcement officers, contingent on a judge’s approval, to seize guns from individuals that are found to pose an immediate safety risk. The Sheriffs falsely argued the law was “unconstitutional” and then politically retaliated against the Governor by supporting or endorsing her Republican opponent Mark Ronchetti.
Sandia Park Republican Stefani Lord said Democrt sponsored gun safety proposals focus on a “tool” used to commit crimes, but not the issues that are driving the increase in New Mexico violent crime rates. Lord said Bottom of Form
that it is drug addiction, mental illness and illicit firearm trafficking that need to be addressed. Lord said this:
“I feel the gun bills they present are consistently going after responsible gun owners and are not addressing crime issues. … On the Democrat side, they are constantly pushing to focus on just the tool, the tool that is used to commit a crime, and not the issues that are actually behind all the reasons that we have very high levels of crime. We are lacking severely on behavioral health and rehabilitation. … I know that there’s some bills being drafted for mental health and for rehabilitation, for drug addiction, and maybe those will get through, or maybe we can actually work together. Because I feel if the Republicans and the Democrats could work together on some of these issues, we might actually do what is best for New Mexico.”
Bills can be prefilled starting January 3 for the 60-day legislative session, which gets underway on January 17. Unlike the shorter 30-day sessions held during even-numbered years, bills dealing with any type of subject issue can be proposed without approval from the governor during the longer 60-day sessions.
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JOURNAL GUN CONTROL POLL
From August 31 through to September 3, the Albquerquerqu Journal published a series of front-page articles of a poll conducted primarily for the 2022 midterm election. One report covered the gun control measures. On September 4, the Journal published poll results on two-gun control proposals. Both proposals received overwhelming bi partisan support. The poll questions and results were as follows:
DO YOU SUPPORT OR OPPOSE LEGISLATION IN NEW MEXICO TO RAISE THE AGE FROM 18 TO 21 TO PURCHASE AN AR-15 STYLE SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE?
It depends: 4%
Don’t know/won’t say: 2%
Female support: 75%, Female opposition: 19%
Male support: 69%, Male Opposition: 24%
POLITICAL PARTY BREAKDOWN
Democrat Support: 85%, Democrat Opposition: 11%
Republican Support: 53%, Republican Opposition: 35%
Other Party Support: 77%, Other Party Opposition: 19%
DO YOU SUPPORT OR OPPOSE MAKING IT A CRIME IF A PERSON FAILS TO SAFELY SECURE A FIREARM FROM CHILDREN?
It depends: 10%
Don’t know/won’t say: 3%
Female support: 76%, Female opposition: 11%
Male support: 70%, Male Opposition: 17%
POLITICAL PARTY BREAKDOWN
Democrat Support: 81%, Democrat Opposition: 9%
Republican Support: 61%, Republican Opposition: 22%
Other Party Support: 74%, Other Party Opposition: 10%
New Mexico lawmakers in recent years have passed laws expanding background check requirements for firearm purchases and allowing guns to be seized from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. But with the state’s firearm violence rate still high, many voters want lawmakers to enact additional gun control measures.
While Democratic voters were significantly more likely to support the gun control measures, a majority of Republican voters surveyed also expressed support for both proposals. A total of 61% of GOP voters surveyed support making it a crime to fail to store guns safely around children, while 53% of Republicans said they support raising the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style rifles.
Brian Sanderoff, the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., had this to say:
“We’re seeing that even conservative voters, at least a small majority of them support raising the minimum age to purchase certain firearms.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is difficult to gage what effect, if any, the passage of “gun safety” measures will have on reducing gun violence and mass shootings. More realistic proposals that will likely reduce gun violence would be federal laws banning the manufacturing, sale or distribution of AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles. In the state, gun registration, banning large capacity gun magazines and types of ammunition and mandatory background checks and perhaps repealing the state’s open carry provision in its constitution may reduce gun violence.
ENACT “OMNIBUS GUN VIOLENCE AND GUN CONTROL” ACT
What the 2023 New Mexico Legislature should seriously consider is a more comprehensive approach to gun control and enact an “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act”. Such an act should include sweeping legislation to deal with gun control, gun violence and violent crime in the state.
ENHANCEMENT CRIMINAL SENTENCINGS
The following increases in enhancements should be included in the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act”:
- Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a noncapital felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a firearm is brandished 12 years.
- Create a new category of enhanced sentencing for use of a lethal weapon or deadly weapon other than a firearm where there is blandishment of a deadly weapon, defined as an item or object used to inflict mortal or great bodily harm, in the commission of a noncapital felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years.
- Enact legislation making it a 4th degree felony punishable up to 18 months in jail for failure to secure a firearm. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container or otherwise make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or other authorized users.
- Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area from a petty misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony.
- Allow firearms used in a drug crime to be charged separately.
GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION
The “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act” should include the following gun control legislation:
- Call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.
- Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.
- Require in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.
- Review additional bail bond reforms and statutorily empower judges with more authority and more discretion to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime convictions.
- Institute mandatory extended waiting periods to a month for all sales and gun purchases.
- Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
- Ban the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
- Provide more resources and treatment for people with mental illness.
- Limit gun purchases to one gun per month to reduce trafficking and straw purchases.
KEEPING FIREARMS OUT OF THE HANDS OF CHILDREN
Given the severe increase of murders of children at the hands of children, the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act” needs to include provisions directed at keeping firearms out of the hands of children and holding adults owner of guns responsible for their guns. Provisions that should be considered are as follows:
- Currently, you must be at least 19 years old to legally possess a handgun in New Mexico and there is no minimum age to possess rifles and shotguns. Expand the age limitation of 19 to rifles and shotguns,
- Currently, the unlawful possession of a handgun by someone under age 19 is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of from 6 months to one year in jail. It should be classified as an aggravated fourth-degree felony mandating a 2-year minimum sentence.
- Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones.
- The case of any juvenile arrested possession of a weapon and charged by law enforcement are to be referred the District Attorney for automatic prosecution.
- Make it a felony, in certain circumstances, if a person recklessly stores a firearm and a minor gains access to it to threaten or harm someone. If a firearm is accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a crime resulting in great bodily harm or death, the person responsible for storing the firearm could be charged with an aggravated fourth-degree felony, carrying a 24 month prison sentence. If a firearm were accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a lesser crime, the person responsible for keeping or storing the firearm could have been charged with a 4th degree felony punishable by up to a 18 months in jail.
- Mandate public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers. Legislative funding needs to be provided to accomplish the requirement.
The 2 legislative measures being proposed by New Mexico State Representatives Pamelya Herndon and Reena Szczepanski in and of themselves are first good steps in the right direction to help curb gun violence, but in all likelihood do not even come close to what is actually needed to have an impact on preventing gun violence. A far more comprehensive approach is what is needed in the form of an “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act”.