Midway through the 2023 New Mexico Legislature, there are 9 new major gun-control measure bills introduced in the New Mexico House or Senate. Democratic legislators are pursuing aggressive new gun-control measures intended to address mass shootings and violent crime. Republican lawmakers and other opponents are saying the restrictions would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter crime. Lawmakers had until February 16 to introduce new bills.
The 9 measures are as follow:
House Bill 9, sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat Representative Pamelya Herndon makes it a crime to store a firearm in a way that negligently disregards the ability of a minor to access it. Criminal charges could be brought only if the minor later brandishes or displays the firearm in a threatening way or uses it to kill or injure someone. House Bill 9 would make it a misdemeanor to negligently allow a child access to a firearm, and would make it a felony if that negligence resulted in someone dying or suffering great bodily harm. On February 9, House Bill 9 passed the House on a 37-32 vote after a three-hour debate and it now goes to the Senate.
House Bill 50 prohibits magazines with more than 10 rounds.
House Bill 72 prohibits possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly.
House Bill 100 would establish a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of any firearm and requires a prospective seller who doesn’t already hold a valid federal firearms license to arrange for someone who does to conduct a federal background check prior to selling a firearm. The bill includes exclusions for sales between law enforcement officers and between immediate family members. The proposal passed its first committee along party lines and is currently scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 101 as written would make it a fourth-degree felony to purchase, possess, manufacture, import, sell or transfer assault weapons in the state. It would restrict the sale, manufacture and possession of AR-15-style rifles along with semiautomatic firearms with certain characteristics, such as semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, or semiautomatic pistols with a fixed magazine capable of loading more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The bill would prohibit the sale or possession of assault weapons, which are defined as semiautomatic rifles and handguns with certain characteristics. House Bill 101 also states any semi-automatic rifle that has the capacity for a large magazine would be considered prohibited in addition to attachments like grenade launchers and flash suppressors. The legislation does include limited exceptions to the ban including police officers and members of the armed forces. A substitute bill introduced during a committee hearing included a clause to allow current assault weapon owners to keep those firearms, provided they register them with the New Mexico State Police. The bill has raised concerns from the New Mexico Attorney General that it could be contested in court due to potential Second Amendment violations.
House Bill 306 is sponsored by Minority Floor Leader Ryan Lane, a Republican from San Juan County. It seeks to prevent gun straw purchases, a type of firearm purchase where someone buys a firearm for another person who is legally banned from owning firearms, such as a convicted felon.
Senate Bill 44 would make it a misdemeanor to carry a firearm within 100 feet of a polling location on election day or during early voting. On-duty law enforcement officers and security personnel would be exempt. On February 16, the New Mexico Senate voted on a 28-9 vote to approve Senate Bill 44 after lengthy debate where Republicans lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to extend exceptions to individuals who have permits to carry a concealed firearm. The amendment failed on 13-23 vote
Senate Bill 116 would establish a minimum age of 21 for anyone seeking to purchase or possess an automatic firearm, semiautomatic firearm or firearm capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine. The bill would effectively raise the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21.
Senate Bill 171 seeks to ban the manufacture, sale, trade, gift, transfer or acquisition of semiautomatic pistols that have two or more defined characteristics. Those characteristics include a detachable magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip, a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward hand grip or silencer; or a shroud that is attached to the barrel that allows the shooter to hold the firearm with the second hand without being burned. The legislation also applies to firearms that can be modified to shoot automatically by a single pull of the trigger, and it would prohibit the sale of ammunition coated with materials designed to penetrate metal or pierce protective armor, along with ammunition designed to explode or segment on impact. Ammunition coated with materials designed to penetrate metal or pierce protective armor is often referred to as “cop killer” ammunition in that such ammunition is not necessary for hunting or target practice.
BAN ON AR-15-STYLE RIFLES ADVANCES
On February 7, it was reported that with a series of 4-2 party-line votes, members of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to advanced legislation to establish a two-week waiting period for firearm purchases and prohibit the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles and handguns. The ban would go into effect in March 2024 with exemptions for people who already have the prohibited firearms. The bills will now go to the House Judiciary Committee potentially for their final committee hearings before reaching the full House chamber for a final vote by the House.
House Bill 100 proposes a 14-day waiting period. House Bill 101 would ban the sale and possession of “assault weapons”, defined as semiautomatic rifles and handguns with certain characteristics but with a grandfather clause. Among the items restricted would be a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip.
People who owned the prohibited firearms before the law took effect could keep them but would face limits on where they could take them. They would have to submit paperwork to the state. Possession would be permitted at firing ranges and sport shooting competitions.
Santa Fe Democrat State Representative Andrea Romero who is sponsoring the assault weapons ban and waiting period for gun purchases said she has seen the “tide change” at the Capitol in recent years. For her, the massacre of children in Uvalde, Texas, was the tipping point that motivated her to propose new restrictions. Representative Bottom of Form
Romero called the legislation a “mass-shootings prevention bill” and said the legislation would reduce suicide by establishing a “cooling off” period for gun purchases and help prevent the massacre of children at schools by removing “weapons of war” from city streets. Romero said this:
“These are really smart pieces of legislation. …We’re not just trying to take away guns. … We have seen far too many mass shootings carried out using these weapons. … As state lawmakers, we have the power to take this important step to prevent these senseless tragedies.”
SUPPORT FOR LEGISLATION VOICED
Supporters appeared before the House Consumer and Public Affairs committee in force to support the legislation. Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged lawmakers to keep in mind the damage caused by mass shootings and said this:
“We bury the victims. … These are real people with real mourning families.”
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence is backing the legislation this year. Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’s optimistic about significant legislation making it to the governor’s desk this year. Viscoli said the political environment in the state has changed over the last decade as lawmakers have seen the impact of bills already passed. She said this:
“We’re realizing we passed some pretty good gun-violence prevention laws. … They’re working, and they’re not taking everybody’s guns away. … People are literally tired of the gun violence.”
STONG OPPOSITION EMERGES
Not at all surprising, Republican lawmakers and other opponents showed up in force and packed the House Consumer and Public Affairs committee room to testify on the proposals and said that in no uncertain terms the restrictions would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to actually deter or reduce crime.
Opponents say the proposals will not be an effective way to combat crime or protect the public. Opponents also said the proposals would keep domestic violence victims from arming themselves in an emergency and would restrict the rights of gun enthusiasts who legally bought their firearms.
Sandia Park Republican Stefani Lord said the proposals to ban the possession of AR-15-style rifles or magazines with more than 10 rounds will turn law-abiding gun owners into felons just for having property they legally purchased. Lord said it’s entirely the wrong approach and said this:
“The criminals are going to have access to whatever they want. … I’m trying to make sure that our legal gun owners still have a way to defend themselves, their home, their property, their livestock.”
San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari, an opponent, said this about the legislation:
“A right delayed is a right denied. … This is going to prevent people from protecting themselves against their aggressors. … Let’s go after the bad guys, not law-abiding citizens.”
OVER THE TOP REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION
All the gun control legislation is facing fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and 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 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.”
Republican State Representative Stefani Lord relies on the traditional Republican dogma argument that gun legislation will turn law-abiding gun owners into felons just for having property they legally purchased. She said that would be the case with bans on AR-15-style rifles or magazines with more than 10 rounds. Lord said this:
“The criminals are going to have access to whatever they want. … I’m trying to make sure that our legal gun owners still have a way to defend themselves, their home, their property, their livestock.”
Lord went so far to say that even some of the less expansive, reasonable gun proposals are problematic. She said a gun storage requirement might leave a woman without enough time to defend herself against a violent ex-husband. She said this:
“They need to be able to protect themselves. … Especially in rural America, it takes a while for law enforcement officers to get there.”
EDITOR’S COMMENTARY: AR-15 style rifles are not “defensive weaponry” nor used for hunting but are assault “weapons of war” designed to kill as many as possible within seconds. Why in gods name does any law-abiding citizen need an AR-15 style rifle to “defend themselves, their home, their property, their livestock” from an aggressor or for that manner from an abusive ex-husband?
Advocates for gun owners say the number of gun proposals this year is unusual. Zac Fort of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association said none of the legislation is an effective way to combat crime. Fort said this:
“We’re used to seeing a lot of bills … but I think the severity of the bills has definitely increased this year. … We’re not able to hold criminals accountable right now. … I don’t think it’s a problem that we don’t have enough laws. I think it’s a problem of prosecution.”
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM REACTS
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 she planned 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.”
Governor Lujan Grisham announced in her January 17 “State of the State” address she is supporting enactment of further gun control measures. She has announced support of the following 4 gun control measures in this year’s 2023 60 day legislative session:
- Banning the sale of AR-15-style rifles.
- Allowing crime victims to sue gun manufacturers.
- Making it a crime to fail to properly secure a firearm that’s accessible to an unsupervised minor.
- Closing a loophole in state law to allow prosecution when a person buys a gun for a someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves, a transaction known as a straw purchase.
Santa Fe Democrat State Representative Reena 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.”
In her State of the State address, she told lawmakers this:
“We all know that we cannot keep our people safe, [we] can’t keep our police officers and their families safe if weapons of war continue to flood our neighborhoods.”
Links to quoted news sources relied on are here:
NEW MEXICO’S HIGH CRIME RATES
The backdrop to the introduction of the 9 new measures is New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s high crime rates. Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles data from police agencies across the nation. The data from 2021, with 2022 data yet to be released, showed New Mexico had the nation’s second highest rate of total crimes against persons.
The FBI numbers show New Mexico’s per-population kidnapping and abduction rate was the highest in the nation. New Mexico’s firearm ownership and fatality rate is among the nation’s highest. In 2016 over 37% of adults in the state lived in a household with a firearm which is 5% higher than the national average according to the think tank Rand Corp.
In 2021 New Mexico law enforcement reported over 28,000 crimes against persons. That includes crimes such as murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. Given New Mexico’s population, the state’s crime rate against persons per population is the second highest in the nation. FBI data shows for every 100,000 people in New Mexico, law enforcement reported 2,189 crimes against persons in 2021. The only state with a higher rate was Arkansas, which reported 2,276 crimes per 100,000 people.
New Mexico law enforcement agencies reported nearly 25,500 instances of assault in 2021. That’s 1,872 more than the state reported in 2020. New Mexico law enforcement also reported more homicides in 2021 than the year before. Across New Mexico, police reported 193 homicides to the FBI in 2021. That’s 67 more than in 2020. Not at all surprising is that the majority of the state’s reported homicides were in Albuquerque.
New Mexico isn’t at the top of the list in all crime categories. While New Mexico law enforcement reported 1,663 instances of sex offenses in 2021, 6 other states had higher rates of sex offenses per population. That includes states like Alaska, Utah, and Montana.
New Mexico law enforcement reported 822 kidnappings and abductions to the FBI in 2021. That puts New Mexico at the top of the list regarding kidnappings and abductions per 100,000 people. Kansas, Colorado, and Utah also rank high on the list of kidnappings and abductions per population.
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 links to quoted and relied upon news sources are here:
ALBUQUERQUE AT FOREFRONT OF CRIME WAVE
Albuquerque is at the forefront of New Mexico’s high violent crime rate. According to legislative data released, the city had about half of the state’s violent crime in 2022 but has just 25% or so of its total population. 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 121 homicides, a historical high.
It has been reported that there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before. In 2022, there were 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.
Links to quoted news sources relied on are:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
All the identified legislation has passed at least one committee and are waiting for their day before their respective Judiciary committees that will scrutinize the legal ramifications of these proposals, including if they are constitutional. All 9 of the legislative measures introduced and now being debated in the 2023 New Mexico State Legislature in and of themselves are first good steps to help curb gun violence. Taken together they mean a major and effective approach to reduce gun violence.
Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 edge in the Senate and this year’s session is a 60-day session. New Mexico Democrats would be damn fools not to enact all 9 measures as New Mexico Republican legislators continue with their national party’s failure to do anything but cater to the National Rifle Association not believing the country has a gun crisis.
Any change made by one chamber requires the bill to go back to the first chamber for agreement before the 60-day session ends. Lawmakers have until noon on March 18 to finalize changes and send bills to Lujan Grisham. If signed by the governor, the bills then become law.