The 2023 New Mexico 60 day legislative began on January 17 and came to an abrupt end on March 18 at 12 noon as did the fate of major gun control measures. Upwards of 40 gun control measures were introduced, but only 10 were seriously considered and of those 10, only 2 made it through the session to become law.
When the session began on January 17, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her “State of the State” address announced her support of the following 4 gun control measures:
- 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.
GUN CONTROL MEASURES INTRODUCED
There were 10 major gun-control measure bills introduced and seriously considered in the New Mexico House or Senate. Those measures were:
House Bill 9 is the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act also know as “Bennies Bill” 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.
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.
House Bill 101 as written would have made 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.
House Bill 306 sought 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.
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 sought to ban the manufacture, sale, trade, gift, transfer or acquisition of semiautomatic pistols that have two or more defined characteristics.
Senate Bill 428 would have revised the state’s Unfair Practices Act to target the sale of illegal firearms and parts, allowing the filing of lawsuits to enforce the act.
FATE OF GUN CONTROL MEASURES IN 2023 SESSION
On March 18, at the conclusion of the 2023 Legislative Session, only 2 of the 10 bills were enacted by the legislature, only 1 bill has been signed into law by the Governor, 2 advanced through one chamber and awaited action in another, 2 awaited action in both chambers and 4 never made it out of any committee.
LEGISLATION APPROVE BY LAWMAKERS
The following legislation was enacted:
- House Bill 9: The bill is referred to as “Bennies Bill” and makes it a crime to store a firearm in a way that negligently disregards the ability of a minor to access it. On March 14, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sign the legislation into law
- House Bill 306: Prohibit buying a firearm for another person who is legally banned from purchasing it on their own.
ADVANCED THROUGH ONE CHAMBER, AWAITED ACTION IN OTHER
The following legislation advanced through one chamber but was not voted upon in the second chamber:
- Senate Bill 44: Prohibit carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place during an election.
- Senate Bill 428: Include firearms in the Unfair Practices Act
AWAITED ACTION IN EACH CHAMBER NEEDING THE OTHER’S APPROVAL
The following passed one chamber but was not voted on by the second:
- House Bill 100: Establish a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm
- Senate Bill 427: Establish a 14-day waiting period, but with an exception for buyers who have a permit to carry a concealed firearm.
DIED IN COMMITTEE
The following bills were referred to a committee but they were never voted out of committee:
- Senate Bill 116: Raise the minimum age to 21 for purchasing or possessing an automatic or semiautomatic firearm.
- House Bill 101: Prohibit sale or possession of assault weapons and assault weapon attachments.
- Senate Bill 428 would include firearms in the Unfair Practices Act
- House Bill 50 prohibits magazines with more than 10 rounds.
Although some lawmakers said after the session ended they felt the 2023 Legislative session addressed crime, many others said they were disappointed. Disappointed legislators raised the question if the Governor will call a special session to address those crime measures and gun control laws that failed.
On Saturday March 18 during a news conference immediately after the session ended, Governor Lujan Grisham told reports that a special session was not needed this year. The Governor said this:
“I think the public is going to ask me and these Legislatures know, so they’re not surprised by that. I’ll be asked to look into a public safety special session, and we usually find ourselves it’s an imperfect world where we didn’t anticipate. So the special sessions we have called have been unforeseen and dramatic circumstances.”
Lujan Grisham went on to say we are not in one of those dramatic circumstances right now. She highlighted some of the crime bills that did pass and not all the ones she wanted. Lujan Grisham said this:
“We have about a handful up and out of 40, it’s 10 and not all of those constitute what I consider strong public safety measures.”
Bills that did not pass include bail reform and changes to pretrial detention, both priorities of Democrat Governor Lujan Grisham and the Republican Party, and both opposed by Democrats in both chambers.
With the session now ended, Republicans are saying not enough was done. Republican State Representative Andrea Reeb, a former District Attorney, said this:
“I was really disappointed in this session, we basically had a couple criminal bills succeed, that actually would do anything would be in the retail organized crime bill. But other than that, we never addressed pretrial detention and never moved anywhere bail reform, or even punishing our most violent offenders.”
The governor did say she looks forward to the 30-day session next year to reconsider much of the legislation she wanted but failed this year. Lujan Grisham said this:
“I know you want me to say that I’m disappointed [with this years session], but I’m motivated. I’m very motivated to find additional ways to make sure we do everything in our power to make our communities, cities, and our state safer.”
The governor did say the only reason she would have called a special session this year is if they weren’t able to pass the medical malpractice fix, but they were able to figure that out before time ran out this year.
Supporters and opponents of all the legislation strenuously advocated their positions often packing committee hearing rooms. Zac Fort of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association lamented about the extent of the legislation and he and other opponents of gun legislation said all the bills would target law-abiding citizens while not deterring crime. Fort said this:
“It’s been bad, but not anywhere near as bad as it could have been.”
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said she was grateful that lawmakers and Lujan Grisham approved the House Bill 9, the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act and child-access prevention law. She said it passage was the culmination of a five-year campaign.
Viscoli also said that even though legislation did not pass this year, she said said she’s confident the governor will add them to the agenda of next year’s 30-day session. Viscoli said this:
“The majority of our gun deaths are suicide and crimes of passion. … That is exactly what [the laws] will reduce.”
HIGH CRIME RATES REFLECT NEED FOR INCREASES PENALTIES AND GUN CONTROL
The backdrop to all the proposed gun control measures that were considered by the 2023 New Mexico legislature are 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 has showed New Mexico has the nation’s second highest rate of total crimes against persons.
NEW MEXICO CRIME RATES
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 is not 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.
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% in 2022. 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 120 homicides, a historical high.
On Thursday, March 16, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the 2022 crime statistics along with crime statistics for 2022 for a comparison. During his March 16 press conference announcing the City’s 2022 crime statistics, APD Chief Harold Medina embellished that a 3% drop in overall total of crime and a 4% decrease in Crimes Against Persons and the 2% decrease in Crimes Against Property was positive movement . Medina said this:
“We’ll always have to work to reduce that perception of crime and make sure that the community knows exactly where they’re at. … But we’re seeing a lot of positive movement, which is encouraging to us. And we’re hoping that it’ll be encouraging to the citizens of the city of Albuquerque.”
The slight 3% decrease in overall crime was over shadowed by the 24% spike in CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY which are largely made up of drug and gun offenses and a 71% increase in murders over the last 6 years. The number of homicides for the past 6 years were reported as follows:
On March 16, in addition to reporting that there has been a 71% spike in homicides, APD officials reported that over the past 6 years there has been a 28% increase in Aggravated Assaults which by definition includes the use of a firearms. Following are the numbers:
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.
ALBUQUERQUE CRIME CRISIS HIGHLIGHTED
Within days after the March 16 press conference where APD Chief Harold Medina touted as progress a 3% drop in overall total crime and a 4% decrease in Crimes Against Persons and the 2% decrease in Crimes Against Property, murders literally discredited Medina’s boast of “progress”. The events and murders highlighted just how bad things really are when it comes to the City’s violent crime.
On March 19, it was reported that 4 homicides in a span of 24 hours occurred over one weekend. On March 22, it was reported that one person was found dead and another was hurt after a shooting in Albuquerque. The city’s homicide numbers for 2023 are following last year’s record-breaking number. These murders bring the total number of homicides to 21 in the city since January 1, 2023
The March 24 Albuquerque Journal editorial highlighted the city’s violent crime problem even further. The editorial states in part as follows:
“An 18-year-old and two 17-year-olds were charged this week with multiple counts of armed robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following an afternoon of carjacking mayhem in Southwest Albuquerque that resulted in multiple crashes and left bullet holes in at least one home.
And two girls, one 13 and the other 14, were charged this week with kidnapping, aggravated battery and conspiracy after a 13-year-old girl was severely beaten in a park in Southeast Albuquerque. An arrest warrant also has been issued for a 12-year-old girl who allegedly was involved.
In the carjacking case, one woman said she was driving to her son’s baseball game near 86th and Tower when she stopped for three teens in a crosswalk. The teens surrounded her car and demanded it at gunpoint.
Shortly later, a woman was waiting for her children near Westgate Community Park when two teens got out of a vehicle and stole her SUV at gunpoint. Then a couple reported driving near Carlos Rey Elementary when a young man got out of a heavily damaged car and attempted to carjack them at gunpoint; they sped away.
Another woman says she was blocked by a vehicle at Barbados and Gibson and three teens with guns got out and carjacked her, leaving in her vehicle and another.
And yet another a woman said teens followed and shot at her after she witnessed a carjacking on 98th.
The chaos finally ended when one of the carjacked vehicles crashed near Atrisco and Bridge. Police say they found three handguns where the teens were detained, including one that had been modified to fire fully automatic.
So — where did these young men get the firearms? State law says you have to be 19 to own a handgun.”
The link to read the full editorial is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It was on February 28 at a rally in the capitol rotunda Roundhouse the Governor spoke in no uncertain terms about the gun restriction legislation she wanted enacted before the end of the session. She characterized the legislation as her “must have” legislative priorities. Her “must have” legislative priorities included a waiting period for firearm purchases and raising the minimum age to buy certain guns to 21 as New Mexico, both measures that failed.
It is very likely that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is very disappointed on how little was accomplished by the 2023 New Mexico legislature with only 2 out of 10 gun control measures making it through, but she simply does not want to admit it. The failure of the legislation is very difficult to accept. Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 in the Senate. It’s a damn shame more was not done and Democrats do look foolish on the issue of failing to enact reasonable and responsible gun control measure that will bring down crime and save lives.
OMNIBUS VIOLENT CRIME AND GUN CONTROL ACT
New Mexico’s and the City of Albuquerque’s violent crime and murder rates are simply out of control. In view of the State’s high crime rates and the murder rates in Albuquerque, it is very difficult to comprehend how Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham does not recognize that there are in fact “dramatic circumstances” that exist right now that justify a special session. She should reconsider her decision and call a special session to deal with crime and punishment as well as gun control. Crime and punishment must be balanced with reasonable gun control to be effective in bringing down crime.
If Governor Lujan Grisham is indeed sincere about reintroducing legislation that did not make it through the 2023 legislative session and that it be reintroduced in next year’s session, a much different approach needs to be taken because the State’s crime crisis is very real and will remain until something is done.
All the gun control legislation in the 2023 legislative session was piecemeal at best. It failed to strike a balance between gun control and enhanced penalties for the commission of crime with guns.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham should seek the enactment of “Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act” that could be enacted in either a Special Session or by the 2024 legislative session.
The “Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act would include the following gun regulation measures:
- Outlaw possession and sale assault weapon style weapons such as AR-15-style rifles and pistols with magazines of 10 rounds or more making it a third degree felony with a 6 year mandatory sentence.
- Outlaw the sale of “ghost guns” parts.
- Outlaw possession of semiautomatic firearm converters.
- Limit all retail gun purchases of all types of guns per person to one gun per month.
- Institute mandatory extended waiting period to a full month for gun purchases.
- Outlaw the straw purchase of guns for someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves.
- Outlaw the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
- Allow crime victims to sue gun manufacturers for actual and punitive damages.
- Require the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold.
- Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
- Expand gun ownership age limitation to 19 for rifles and shotguns.
- Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones making it a third-degree felony.
- Call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a statewide vote and would ensure a healthy debate.
The following crime and sentencing provisions should be included in the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Gun Control Act”:
- Making possession of a handgun by someone who commits a crime an aggravated third-degree felony mandating a 6-year minimum sentence.
- Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for the brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent 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 in the commission of a felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years
- Make it a third-degree felony for failure to secure a firearm mandating a 3-year sentence. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container and make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or authorized users.
- Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area a second-degree felony mandating a 9-year sentence.
- Allow firearm offenses used in a drug crime to be charged separately.
- Change bail bond to statutorily empower judges with far more discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime reported incidents without shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.
- 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.
- Make organized retail crime a specific offense punishable by felony charges when value of goods stolen exceeds certain threshold.
- Cases of juveniles arrested in possession of a weapon are to be referred the District Attorney for automatic prosecution as an adult for sentencing.
- Make it a 3rd degree felony if a person recklessly stores a firearm and a minor gains access to it to threaten or harms someone.
The Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act must include funding for the criminal justice system. This would include funding District Attorney’s Offices, the Public Defender’s Office, the Courts and the Corrections Department.
Until the New Mexico Legislature, especially Democrats, get serious and aggressive about responsible gun control and crime and punishment, the State will continue to suffer high violent crime rates.