2023 NM Legislative Update: Senate Passes “Bennie Hargrove” Gun Storage Law; Name Sake’s Killer Pleads No Contest To Killing; House Passes Retail Crime Bill 62-3, Goes To Senate; Time Running Out On Crime Bills As Session Ends On March 18

13-year-old Bennie Hargrove was shot and killed at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque in 2021.  The Albuquerque Police Department investigation found that it was fellow 14 year old middle school student Juan Saucedo Jr. who took his parent’s gun to school and shot Hargrove.  On March 2,  Saucedo Jr. pleaded no contest to second-degree murder. On March 3, House Bill 9 named after Hargrove passed the NM  Senate by a vote of 24 to 16 after it was amended.  It now goes back to the House for further consideration and if approved  by the House as amended and enacted, it goes to the Governor for signature to become law.

The link to news source material is here:






House Bill 9 addresses  unlawful access to firearm by minor. The legislation is  sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat Representative Pamelya Herndon. This bill was originally written as a safe gun storage bill, but was amended  to secure  more support. It 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.

On March 3, the Senate by a vote of 24-16 to pass House Bill 9, but with amendments. Senate Republicans succeeded in amending the bill by a narrow 20-19 vote to exempt hunting and other recreational activities involving firearms from being covered by the bill.  All other proposed amendments failed.  Senate Republicans argued  House Bill 9, would be incompatible with rural New Mexico’s gun culture and could criminalize law-abiding citizens.  Senate Democrats backers of the legislation insisted it is specifically targeted to cover situations when children obtain firearms that are not properly stored by adults.

The Senate vote was  along party lines with the exception of  Democrat Senator  Benny Shendo Jr. of Jemez Pueblo who cast a “no” vote. All Senate Republicans voted in opposition. Despite the Senate’s vote to approve House Bill 9,  the bill goes  back to the House for final approval before being sent to the Governor for her signature to become law. The Governor could veto the measure, but that is not likely.

Representative Pamelya Herndon, who sponsored HB 9 said this:

“Last year, we saw more gun violence. We saw more suicides with children who had access to guns, and we saw more, more children having access to even accidental shootings because they did have access to those firearms. … I just want people to become aware of, we don’t want to pass a piece of legislation, and then it now sits in the books, and no one ever knows about it until there is another incident that requires that piece of legislation to be utilized.”


Governor Lujan Grisham said this about the Senate vote on HB 9:

I commend the members of the Legislature for joining me in efforts to keep New Mexicans safe by requiring safe storage of firearms. … Holding gun owners accountable for failing to safely store their firearms is common sense. We lose nearly three children in New Mexico every month as a result of gun violence — it’s imperative to take every step we can to keep that from happening going forward.”

Out of upwards of 10 major gun control bills under consideration by the 2023 New Nexico legislature, House Bill 9 has made it the farthest to become law. Other gun safety bills that are stalling in the Senate or House committees  include  a proposed 14-day waiting period for firearm sales,  a bill raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy guns and the  assault weapons ban, such as AR-15-style rifles.

The link to news source material is here:

New Mexico Political Reports “Senate passes 1st Major Gun Control Law of Session”, March 4 at  https://nmpoliticalreport.com/



On March 2, 14 year old Juan Saucedo Jr. pleaded ‘no contest’ in Juvenile Court for the murder of Bennie Hargrove.  Saucedo Jr. will remain in custody until he is 21, which is the maximum sentence allowed for a child under New Mexico law.

Juvenile Court Judge Catherine R. Begaye to the opportunity to address Saucedo at his sentencing and said this to him:

“Juan, I want you to understand the actions you took on that day when you killed Bennie, didn’t just affect his family—you frightened the other middle school children who were attending that same school. You scared their parents. … I want you to take the opportunity to see the consequences of your actions.”



On Sunday, March 6,  Senate Bill 427, another bill to impose a 14-day waiting period on gun purchases,  made it out of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. Senate Bill 427 passed on a 6-1 vote. It would do the same thing as House Bill 100, which made it out of two committees with a do-pass recommendation last month but hasn’t yet been brought to the House floor. New Mexico currently has no waiting period to buy a firearm. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said 14 days would put New Mexico at the high end of waiting periods. While 11 states have waiting period laws, only Hawaii has one as long as 14 days.

Supporters said the cooling-off period required by the bill would reduce both violent crime and suicides. Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, said several of her relatives have died by suicide with a gun and she said this:

“All of them had easy access to a firearm in the home.”

Opponents of Senate Bill 427 said the bill wouldn’t do anything to reduce crime and would be a hardship for law-abiding gun owners, particularly people in rural areas who would have to travel twice to buy a gun.

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee also voted 6-1 to advance Senate Bill 428  which would amend the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act to sue gun sellers who advertise guns or other products as being legal in New Mexico or the United Sates when they’re not, or sell illegal guns. Both votes were along party lines.

The link to news source material is here:



On March 1, the New Mexico House voted 62-3 to approve House Bill 234 which is an attempt crack down  on retail crime. The law would  make it easier for state prosecutors to charge brazen, big-ticket shoplifters with heftier offenses.  is headed to the Senate. The bill is sponsored by  Representive Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque.

House legislators largely agreed on the need to take action in response to a major trend of shoplifters hitting a string of stores, sometimes while flashing weapons to deter employees from intervening. Major concerns were raised about the bill’s drafting  with questions asked whether it would be enforced in Albuquerque. Rep. Marian Matthews retooled the bill  before it reached the House floor to address concerns about possible unintended consequences.


House  Bill 234  will  create a new organized retail crime offense that could be charged in cases involving the theft of at least $2,500 in merchandise from one or more retailers over the course of a year.  It could also be applied to individuals who receive or possess  stolen merchandise, or to those involved in organizing retail theft rings.  The bill would also allow prosecutors to combine multiple robberies committed within a 90-day period to be combined under a single criminal shoplifting charge, and would also clarify that robbery can involve making threats of violence while fleeing from the scene of a theft. If convicted of organized retail crime, offenders could face up to 9 years in prison. House Minority Whip Greg Nibert, R-Roswell attempted  to amend the bill to include even stiffer penalties for individuals convicted of using a firearm while shoplifting, but the attempt was rejected.

During the House floor debate, Matthews said the bill would plug “gaping holes” in the state’s current shoplifting laws and that it will better protect local businesses and state residents. Mathews said this  told the House this:

“By cracking down on organized retail crime rings, we can send a clear message that these dangerous and costly crimes have no place in our state.” she said.

Passage of House Bill 234 was endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and top Albuquerque city leaders.


HOUSE BILL 234  passed on a 62-3 bi partisan  vote with all House Republicans voting in favor.  Three Democrats voted  in opposition and they were Reps. Joanne Ferrary of Las Cruces, Matthew McQueen of Galisteo and Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces. Not at all surprising, HOUSE BILL 234  was also  opposed the Law Offices of the Public Defender and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

In addition to the opposition by few, the push to crack down on retail theft will come have a major incarceration costs. An analysis of the bill projected the state could have to pay at least $556,000 per year to cover the increased incarceration costs the bill could trigger by imposing longer prison sentences.



Governor  Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon lawmakers in her State of the State address to pass several gun control measures.  Thus far,  Bennie Hargrove  bill to penalize gun owners whose guns get into the hands of children who use them to commit crimes has made it the furthest and has  passed both the House and Senate, although both chambers must to agree on amendments to it before it can go to the governor’s desk. None of the others, including a waiting period bill, an assault weapons ban and magazine capacity limits, has gotten a floor vote yet.

On February 28, Governor Lujan Grisham spoke out  in no uncertain terms about the crime and  gun restriction legislation she wants enacted before the end of the session.  She characterized  the legislation as her “must have” legislative priorities.  Her “must have” legislative priorities include a waiting period for firearm purchases and raising the minimum age to buy certain guns to 21 as New Mexico.

The Governor acknowledged the proposed ban on “assault weapons”, such as AR-15-style rifles, will  likely  be struck down by the legislature in committee without any full Senate or House votes. The assault weapon ban has run into  questions over how to define “assault weapons” and what would be banned.

In addition to House Bill 9, there are other  measures that are still stuck in committee and pending enactment. The legislation includes the following:

House Bill 72 prohibits possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly and has not been scheduled for hearings.

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. House Bill 100 has passed  through two house committees. However, House Bill 100  has been on the House’s floor agenda for a week but has not been brought up for a vote amounting to speculation that there will be a narrow vote margin and it may not pass the  full House chamber to make it over to the Senate.

House Bill 306: Illegal straw purchases is a waiting first House committee hearing.

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 101 has  passed  one House committee. Amendments are being considered in a second committee.

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. The bill has advanced through one of two committees in the House.

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 116 has  passed one Senate committee. On March 1, Senate Bill 116 stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee as a result of dueling motions to reject or pass the bill where each failed on 4-4 votes. The tie votes occurred  because of the absence of Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. The lack of a successful motion leaves the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could be scheduled for another hearing, at the prerogative of the Chairman Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.  Given the shortness of time remaining in the session  and the amount of other legislation pending, another hearing is not likely.

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.  Senate Bill 171 seeks to ban the sale of hollow point ammunition, machine guns and certain other kinds of firearms. 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. Lawmakers of both parties questioned the legality of a proposal and Senate Bill 171 was  rejected by a Senate committee.


The 60-day session ends March 18. Given the fact that there is a mere 12 days left of the 2023 legislative session, it is becoming painfully obvious that not much of the Governor’s “must have” gun control legislation is going to get enacted and it’s  a damn shame.

Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 in the Senate. New Mexico Democrats are looking very foolish  not  enacting reasonable and responsible gun control measures as New Mexico Republican legislators continue with their national party’s failure to do anything but cater to the National Rifle Association (NRA) not believing the country has a gun crisis.

What was needed from the get go is a balance between crime and punishment and gun control that in a real sense they go hand in hand to deal with reducing the state’s high violent crime rates.  The message must be loud and clear: “You use a gun during the commission of a crime, or you are negligent with your gun, you go to prison with mandatory enhanced sentences.”

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham should reach out immediately to Democrat legislative leaders and broach the subject with them about sponsoring and “Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act” that could be enacted in the remaining days of the 2023 session or calling a Special Session immediately after when the 2023 Legislative session ends.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.