On Tuesday, January 16 the 2024 New Mexico legislative session began at noon. It ends on February 15 at noon. The 2024 legislative session is a 30-day short session where much of the session is devoted to exclusively approving the state’s annual budget. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has already released her proposed 2024-2025. She is proposing a $10.5 billion budget which is a 9.9% increase from the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) introduced its own competing budget proposal. The LFC’s version is slimmer with just a 5.9% budget increase compared to Governor’s 9.9%. The LFC budget recommendation totaled $10.1 billion, retaining enough reserves to protect against future budget cuts and keep revenues growing for the next several years.
On January 16, in her in her 6th State of the State address that lasted one hour, Governor Lujan Grisham covered a broad range of topics, including affordable housing construction, education and clean energy. But the governor, who last year instituted a public health order restricting where people can carry guns, highlighted ambitious gun control legislation she wants pasted during the 2024 legislative session.
Proclaiming “enough is enough” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for the enactment of gun control and safety package that would ban assault weapons and make purchases of automatic and semiautomatic weapons legal only for people at least 21 years old with a two-week waiting period. The Governor said this:
“This is the most important work we’re going to do. … Because all the other stuff, the jobs, the futures, the homes, the education — really, we can’t keep New Mexicans safe.”
GUN CONTROL MEASURES
On January 12, 2024, notwithstanding that the 2024 legislative session is a 30 short budgetary session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her support of bills she wants lawmakers to consider during the session to address public safety. The bills include raising the age to purchase a gun, regulating assault weapons, and increasing penalties for a range of crimes. The governor is also asking lawmakers to discuss a handful of crime-related bills backed by both Democratic lawmakers as well as Republicans.
Three of the gun control initiatives Lujan Grisham is supporting for the 2024 session are in fact failed legislation from the 2023 Legislative session. The bills from the 2023 legislative session that failed include:
- House Bill 101, which would have prohibited people from possessing assault weapons;
- House Bill 100, which would have established a 14-day waiting period for guns; and
- Senate Bill 116, which would have made it illegal for anyone younger than 21 to purchase an automatic or semi-automatic firearm, all died in committee.
The current versions of the bills are set to be carried by all the same lawmakers who sponsored them last year.
Asked why the current versions of the measures would be successful in the 2024 session, Governor Spokeswoman Maddy Hayden had this to say:
“[There is] more momentum around public safety than ever, and you can expect a full-court press on every one of these bills to get them across the finish line. … This year is seeing a convergence of not only a public that continues to demand action from the [State Legislature] on public safety, but also a sense of energy felt after the meaningful results of the concerted efforts of the last few months in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.”
With respect to the legislation about regulating the possession and sale of assault weapons, Hayden said a language shift in the new proposal to define such firearms in terms of how they deliver bullets made this year’s version stronger than previous versions.
In the governor’s public safety agenda, she refers to how assault weapons “fire bullets at extremely high velocity, assault weapons can inflict massive trauma including the piercing of law enforcement body armor.”
THE BILLS AND THEIR SPONSORS
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe), would regulate the manufacture, sale, and possession of assault weapons. The bill would make it a misdemeanor to have an assault weapon during the commission or attempted commission of a felony. A defendant would also face separate charges for the felon.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Romero would put a 14-day waiting period in place between the initiation of a federal background check and the handover of a gun in a legal sale. According to the governor’s office, the bill will likely include exceptions for sales between family members, those carrying valid New Mexico concealed carry permits, or a federal firearm license.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe), would raise the minimum age to buy automatic and semiautomatic guns. Currently, the legal age is 18 years and the bill would raise that to 21. The bill would also prohibit owning guns that can accept high-capacity magazines.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe Counties), would allow gun manufacturers to be held liable if they use deceptive business tactics.
A bill, sponsored by Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Abq.) and Rep. Chandler, would amend the existing Extreme Risk Firearms Protection Order by creating an expedited system for issuing protection orders and expanding the list of those that can ask for an order. It also lets police ask for a search warrant in order to enforce an order.
A bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), would prohibit guns within 100 feet of a polling place during an election. The bill would not apply to on-duty police officers.
The governor is also asking to make it a crime to carry a firearm in a park or playground owned by a county or municipality. The governor’s controversial public health order put a similar rule in place, temporarily, in Bernalillo County.
The gun bills announced came months after Lujan Grisham enacted a public health order to tackle gun violence and declared gun violence a public health emergency. She did so following the shooting death of an 11-year-old leaving an Albuquerque Isotopes baseball game in September.
The governor initially included a ban on publicly carrying firearms in Bernalillo County, but that was trimmed back — to only include parks and playgrounds — after a federal judge issued an order blocking the ban.
PRE TRIAL-DETENTION MEASURES
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for a third time is advocating major changes to the state’s criminal justice pretrial detention system in the form of enacting “rebuttable presumption” to make it easier to hold defendants accused of violent crimes until trial. For the 2024 session, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Sandoval) and would shift the way courts decide if someone should be held in jail before their trial. The governor’s office says the bill would create a presumption that violent offenders are a threat and should be held before trial, unless the defense offers clear and convincing evidence that they won’t be a danger to the community.
The legislation would create a “rebuttable presumption” of dangerousness for defendants charged with violent crimes and that they be held without bond pending trial.
The aim of “rebuttable presumption” is to make it easier for more defendants to be held in custody before they’ve been convicted and to keep them from committing new crimes. Proponents of rebuttable presumption say it will reduce violent crime. Opponents of rebuttable presumption say courts can already keep a defendant behind bars and that reputable presumption shifts the burden of proof to defendants and violates the basic constitutional right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
OTHER CRIME LEGISLATION
Another bill sponsored by Sen. Brandt would expand existing anti-racketeering laws to include human trafficking, rape, exploitation of children, escape from a penitentiary, and tampering with public records as a crime. The idea is to offer more ways to prosecute gang activity.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Antonio Maestas (D-Abq.), would increase the penalty for second-degree murder from 15 years to 18 years. It would also increase the penalty for attempted second-degree murder.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews (D-Abq.), would amend the state’s existing human trafficking statutes. The bill would lengthen the statute of limitations, increase penalties, and boost victim protection, the governor’s office says.
The governor also wants to boost civil commitments for those who are considered a danger to themselves or society.
Othe legislation The governor is asking for includes a ban on panhandling, increased hazing penalties, stronger data-sharing requirements for law enforcement agencies, an easier process for retired public safety officers to return to work, boosted funds for law enforcement recruitment and compensation, stronger penalties for commercial burglary, and the ability for law enforcement to test for both drugs and alcohol during a misdemeanor DWI search warrant.
TWENTY-ONE BILLS PROPOSED
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had this to say when she unveiled her public safety agenda for the 2024 legislative session:
“We have a gun problem … and we have a public safety problem. … We have a responsibility to our children, to families, communities to solve it, and I believe this package goes a long way to do just that. … This is, without a doubt, the largest and most comprehensive public safety package in our state’s history. It’s the most together we’ve been on addressing public safety, crime and gun violence since I’ve been involved in government and certainly since I’ve been the governor. … Gun violence is a significant contributor to the cycles of crime in our communities and will continue to use every tool at our disposal to end this epidemic. Likewise, we will strengthen our support for law enforcement, increase penalties for violent crimes, and once again pursue legislation to keep violent offenders behind bars pending trial. All of this will build upon the progress and investments we’ve made in previous years.”
The governor’s public safety priorities include the following 21 bills dealing with firearms and cracking down on crime with the sponsors identified:
- The Firearm Industry Accountability Act amends the state statue to allow gun manufacturers to be held liable for deceptive trade practices. (Sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler)
- Assault weapons ban lawfully regulates the manufacture, possession and sale of weapons of war, most often the gun used in mass casualty events. (Sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero)
- Raising the age to purchase automatic firearms to 21 from the current minimum of 18 years of age. (Sponsored by Rep. Reena Szczepanski)
- Firearms purchase waiting period creates a protracted waiting period of 14 days between the initiation of a federal background check and a buyer taking possession of a firearm, thereby reducing the opportunity for gun violence and suicide. (Sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero)
- Prohibiting guns in polling places makes it illegal to carry firearms within 100 feet of polling places during an election. (Sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth)
- Prohibiting guns in parks and playgrounds will make it illegal to carry a firearm in county or municipal parks, playgrounds, and their accompanying parking lots.
- Increased criminal penalty of the crime of second-degree murder raises the maximum penalty from 15 to 18 years. (Sponsored by Sen. Antonio Maestas)
- Felons in possession of firearms increases the criminal penalty for felons found to be in possession of guns making it a second-degree felony. (Sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil)
- Amending the human trafficking statute increases the statute of limitations, criminal penalties, and victim protections under New Mexico’s current human trafficking statute. (Sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews)
- Changes to commercial burglary statute will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to respond to businesses who have revoked a person’s right to enter or remain on their property due to a prior theft. It will allow police to charge offenders with the crime of commercial burglary, a 4th-degree felony.
- Pretrial detention is legislation designed to create a rebuttable presumption for persons charged with serious, largely violent offenses. Unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence, a defendant that poses a threat to the safety of community members can be held in custody pending trial. (Sponsored by Sen. Craig Brandt)
- Mandated treatment will give judges a more robust avenue to civilly commit individuals who are a danger to themselves or society.
- RICO amendments will update the existing Racketeering Act by adding additional crimes to include human trafficking, rape, exploitation of children, escape from penitentiary, and tampering with public records.
- ERPO amendments are designed to amend the Extreme Risk Firearms Protection Order Act. Specifically, it will provide an expedited process where orders are issued 24-7 via an on-call judge, a requirement of immediate relinquishment of firearms upon service of an order. This legislation also changes reporting parties to include law enforcement and health care professionals. (Sponsored by Reps. Christine Chandler, Joy Garratt)
- Return to work for public safety personnel is designed to provide a mechanism to allow for public safety personnel who previously retired from PERA to be able to return to work and continue to serve their communities. The goal of the bill is to be able to shore up significant public safety personnel vacancy rates in state, county and municipal public safety agencies.
- Panhandling ban will prohibit the unlawful use of public spaces, streets, sidewalks, curbs, with the primary goal of increasing public safety and vehicular efficiency.
- Misdemeanor DWI search warrant requirement amendment will update the requirements for testing the blood of a suspected intoxicated driver to include both drugs and alcohol for misdemeanor crimes when the arrested person refuses testing.
- Hazing penalties will criminalize hazing and aggravated hazing, protecting students or prospective students in New Mexico. Hazing is a misdemeanor and aggravated hazing a fourth-degree felony. This bill provides for criminal penalties for teachers, coaches or other reporting parties who knew, or should have known about hazing and failed to report it.
- Data sharing requirements for law enforcement agencies will require the regular reporting of crime data from law enforcement agencies to the state as a condition of state funding.
- Firefighter, law enforcement, corrections officer recruitment fund is designed to provide financial support to recruit candidates to these critical public safety fields.
- Compensation increases for State Police, corrections/parole officers provides for a 14% funding increase ($11.5 million) for State Police and an 8% increase ($7.2 million) for corrections, probation & parole officers.
DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP REACTION
Democratic leadership have said their priorities match up with most of Lujan Grisham’s firearm legislation. However House Speaker Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, did not directly respond to an inquiry on whether Democrats would support an assault weapons ban. Martínez said this:
“As is the case with any bill that is germane, meaning it falls into the scope of the governor’s executive message or within the scope of the budget process, all of those bills will be considered. They’ll be heard. They’ll have a fair hearing. They’ll have votes. … It is my hope that we can get folks to the table to talk about this and have a productive conversation.”
Martínez said some bill sponsors have talked with Republicans about the gun legislation. He pointed to a bill that Rep. Raymundo Lara, D-Chamberino, and Minority House Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, worked on last session.
REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP REACTION
Republicans were quick to respond to Governor Luja Grisham and the bills she is supporting. Republican leadership said Lujan Grisham’s proposed legislation would take away New Mexicans’ constitutional rights.
Senate Minority Leader Gregory Baca, R-Belen, said if New Mexicans had to legally follow the governor’s proposed gun measures, they would put themselves at risk by doing so.
“What we have is we have criminals running the streets, breaking the law, obtaining firearms illegally, which I can tell you will not change. … We’re not going to convince criminals to not commit crimes with firearms by going in and registering and doing background checks. … [The governor] took a hyper-partisan turn with the announcement of several anti-Second Amendment measures targeting New Mexico gun owners who only want to protect themselves and their families. … Let’s be clear — if the Governor and other Democrats were half as hard on criminals as they are on law-abiding citizens, our communities would already be much safer. … Enough with the false solutions. Let’s enforce the laws we have, keep dangerous criminals behind bars and give law enforcement the tools they need to do their job.”
Minority House Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec said New Mexico has a mental health and criminal problem that needs to be addressed instead of gun control. Lane said this:
“Our state doesn’t have a gun problem. … New Mexico is very unique [in] that both right and left we celebrate the Second Amendment.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Simply put, when it comes to gun all the gun control legislation Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is supporting in the 30 day legislative session not much if any will actually be enacted. Much of it is either dead on arrival or will not make it through committee mainly because it’s a 30 day session and there is simply not enough time to give all 21 measures a fair hearing. That is why the Governor should again consider calling a special session to deal with gun control measures immediately after the 2024 session to address all the proposed gun control legislation.
Until the New Mexico legislature get serious about New Mexico’s gun violence crisis and enacts reasonable gun control measures in conjunction with crime and punishment measures, we can expect our violent crime rates to continue to increase, and God forbid, yet another killing of a child which is what prompted the Governor to issue her executive orders in the first place.
If Governor Lujan Grisham is really serious about the State’s crime crisis and wants to do something about it, she should be calling for the New Mexico Legislature to enact an “Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act” and do so during a special session of the legislature. The message that must be sent out loud and clear to violent criminals by our elected officials is that New Mexico has a zero tolerance of violent crimes committed with firearms. The only way to do that is with responsible gun control measures to reduce the availability of guns and to enhance criminal sentencings.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT MEASURES
The following crime and sentencing provisions should be included in the “Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act”:
- Allow firearm offenses used in a drug crime to be charged separately with enhance sentences.
- Making possession of a handgun by someone who commits a crime of drug trafficking an aggravated third-degree felony mandating a 10-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
- Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area a second-degree felony mandating a 9-year sentence.
- Increase the penalty and mandatory sentencing for the conviction of the use of a fire arm during a road rage incident to a first degree felony mandating a life sentence.
- 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.
GUN CONTROL MEASURES
Gun control measures that should be included the “Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act” would include legislation that failed in the 2023 legislative session and other measures and would include the following:
- Call for the 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, but what is the real rational for allowing side arms and rifles to be carried down the street other than to intimidate others.
- Restrict the sale, manufacture and possession of AR-15-style rifles along with semiautomatic firearms and make it a fourth-degree felony to purchase, possess, manufacture, import, sell or transfer assault weapons in the state.
- Prohibited magazines with more than 10 rounds.
- Prohibited the possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly.
- Established 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.
- Institute a Federal and State background check system with a mental health component that would disqualify a person with a history of mental health violent outbursts or a history of threats to others from making a gun purchase.
- 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.
- Ban the manufacture, sale, trade, gift, transfer or acquisition of semiautomatic pistols that have two or more defined characteristics.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mandate the school systems and higher education institutions “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, and security measures and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.
- Require a permit to purchase all rifles and handguns. There are 15 other states require a permit to purchase or licensing. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Firearm licensing has past performance. A John Hopkins University study in a comparative analysis, describes licensing as the most effective firearm policy. Connecticut notes a 28% decrease in homicides, 33% decrease in suicides 10 years post licensing. When you compare states with and without licensing, there is a 56% decrease in mass shootings. Studies reveal a decrease of gun trafficking of more than 60% after licensing. Missouri found similar increases in homicides and suicides when removing their purchase restrictions. Licensing is constitutional it has broad public support. Licensing brings in revenue to the state vs simply cost the state money.
The Omnibus Gun Control And Violent Crime Sentencing Act Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing 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 and law enforcement departments across New Mexico.
On Sunday, January 15, the Albuquerque Journal published the follow guest opinion column by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham:
HEADLINE: ITS TIME TO BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS IN NEW MEXICO
Every day, Americans wake up to the news of another community torn apart by gun violence. America’s gun violence crisis has become so rampant that we are virtually numb to the deadly reality that more than 120 Americans are shot and killed every day in our country. Far too often, these tragedies reach our doorsteps right here in New Mexico. Families from Farmington to Las Cruces feel the anxiety and fear of being gunned down at shopping malls and movie theaters, of dropping their children off at school.
We saw it in Farmington — a teenager legally purchased an AR-15 in late 2022 and bought an additional three magazines just days before he went on a shooting spree. He fired over 150 rounds, killed three and injured six, including two police officers. Three women were brutally slaughtered by an automatic weapon designed for warfare and whose only purpose is to kill multiple people in a short amount of time.
Between 2015 and 2022 in the United States, 8 of the 10 deadliest mass shooting incidents involved the use of a firearm equipped with a high-capacity magazine, an assault weapon, or both. Shootings where assault weapons were used resulted in more than twice as many people killed and more than 22 times as many people wounded per incident on average. There’s no training or survival class against an assault weapon. In addition to brutalizing our communities, these military-grade weapons can overwhelm and endanger law enforcement.
As governor, I took an oath to protect New Mexicans. I take this responsibility seriously and I refuse to stand by while weak laws allow our streets and neighborhoods to be terrorized by weapons of war again and again. It’s time for New Mexico to break the cycle and ban assault weapons once and for all.
Banning assault weapons isn’t a novel concept. President Clinton took decisive action in 1994 and the data are clear: banning assault weapons saves lives. A 2019 study revealed a staggering 70% reduction in mass shooting fatalities between 1994 and 2004, when the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was enforced. When the federal ban expired, state governments had to take up the charge of protecting their own people, and nearly one-third of the population now lives in states that prohibit assault weapons. Many of these states, such as California, have the lowest gun violence rates in the country.
Between 1993 and 2017, California saw a remarkable 55% decrease in its firearm mortality rate, a reduction nearly four times greater than the rest of the nation in the same period of time. The numbers don’t lie; common-sense gun safety solutions save lives and it’s time for New Mexico to follow suit.
My proposed assault weapons ban takes an innovative approach. We can tackle this crisis by prohibiting the sale, transfer, and receipt of gas-operated semi-automatic firearms, such as AR-15 rifles, and large-capacity magazines that hold 10 or more rounds of ammunition. Our proposed assault weapons ban will keep these weapons of war off our streets while continuing to allow most handguns and common hunting firearms to be sold. My legislation would ban extraordinarily dangerous firearms based on their internal construction, so gunmakers will not be able to circumnavigate the ban in the future – as they have done in other states – by changing their firearms’ external features. This means that New Mexicans will be protected for generations to come, at the same time responsible gun ownership for self-defense, hunting and other activities meaningful to New Mexicans is preserved.
This upcoming legislative session, I am laser-focused on putting an end to our gun violence crisis. New Mexicans are ready for meaningful action – that’s how we honor victims and save lives. There are political forces who will oppose taking these weapons of mass destruction off the streets. In recent years, my administration has shown them that we are putting courage over politics by expanding background checks for gun purchases and preventing children from gaining access to their parents’ weapons. Now it’s time to get these weapons of war off our streets once and for all.
As a daughter, mother and grandmother, my family’s experiences motivate me to be in this fight. In 2019, my daughter was in a mall that was on active shooter lockdown, while we debated gun violence legislation here in New Mexico; my granddaughter’s school was locked down because a student brought a fake gun to school in their backpack that was mistaken for a real firearm. Later, two adults had an altercation outside of that school during afternoon pick-up, resulting in one of them brandishing a firearm while students were being released for the day and all access points to the campus were open. Parents don’t know if the school dropoff is the last time they will ever see their kids. For them, and for children across New Mexico, we cannot shy away from this crisis. Not anymore.
We need leaders at every level, regardless of our politics, to come together and present common-sense solutions to this ceaseless pattern of mass shootings. It’s time to put the safety of our families over partisan politics and meet this moment by doing what we know saves lives. Together, we can put an end to the public health crisis of mass shootings, protect our citizens and get weapons of war off our streets.
The link to the Albuquerque Journal guest opinion column is here:
The link to a related blog article is here: