On April 6, Governor Lujan Grisham signed 3 bills into law enacted by the 2023 New Mexico legislature with strong bipartisan support. The 3 bills are:
House Bill 234 targets organized retail crime. It creates new crimes and penalties to ease the prosecution of gangs or other groups of people stealing from grocery, big box and retail stores in an organized way, terrorizing customers and employees. Albuquerque has had a huge spike in aggressive shoplifting by well organized, violent shoplifting gang crews.
House Bill 306 that is directed at “straw purchases” of firearms. It makes it illegal to buy a firearm on behalf of someone who’s not allowed to have it or intends to use in a crime. It was noted that Albuquerque had to rely on federal prosecutors to step in when officers arrested a man they said was responsible for the purchase of nine weapons tied to 18 shootings.
Senate Bill 133 deals with the theft of catalytic converters that has spiked. The bill requires second hand metal dealers to track from whom they buy used catalytic converters. The vehicle catalytic converters are anti-pollution devices that contain valuable metals, making them favorite targets of thieves.
2024 CRIME AND GUN CONTROL MEASURES DISCUSSED
After signing the trio of crime fighting measures, Governor Lujan Grisham took the opportunity to be clear she intends to pursue crime and gun measures during the 2024 legislative session. The 2024 session, unlike the 2023 60 day session, is a 30 day short session where lawmakers face restrictions on what non-budgetary bills they may introduce. During 30 sessions, only legislation the Governor places on the “Governor’s Call” agenda are considered.
The Governor said she intends to pursue at least three firearms proposals during the 2024 session that failed in the 2023 session. The measures listed were:
- Raising the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of certain firearms.
- Imposing a 14-day waiting period on the purchase of guns.
- Banning AR-15-style rifles. Not at all surprising given New Mexico’s pro-gun philosophy, the assault weapons ban had the fiercest opposition during the 2023 session even among Democrats. Opposition centered on its legality in the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and technical questions over how to define what qualifies as an assault weapon.
All 3 gun control measures were fiercely opposed by Republican lawmakers, contending they would target law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to deter crime.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It should come as no surprise that Governor Lujan Grisham is already discussing gun control measures, she intends to pursue in the 2024 thirty day legislative session. It is very likely that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was 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.
In the 2023 New Mexico 60 day legislative session, 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.
Only two of the four measure’s the Governor endorsed were enacted by the legislature. The two measures enacted and signed into law were:
House Bill 9, the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act also know as “Bennies Bill” makes 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 306 that is directed at “straw purchases” of firearms and making it illegal to buy a firearm on behalf of someone who’s not allowed to have it or intends to use in a crime. During the March 6 signing of House Bill 306 making it law, Lujan Grisham highlighted the role of House Republican Leader Ryan Lane of Aztec in getting the bill passed. Lane was the lead sponsor of the measure resulting in other Republican support which is an absolute a rarity for any firearms legislation.
GUN CONTROL MEASURES THAT FAILED
There were 10 major gun-control measure bills introduced and seriously considered in the New Mexico House or Senate. Eight of
House Bill 50 would have prohibited magazines with more than 10 rounds.
House Bill 72 would have prohibited the possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly.
House Bill 100 would have 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.
Senate Bill 44 would have made 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 have established 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 have effectively raised 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.
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”
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 the 2024 legislative 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 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.