News

Biting the Bullet

Lawmakers have about a week to zero in on statewide gun-law reform

Several proposed laws aimed at reforming the regulations on firearms in New Mexico remain in the mix in the ongoing legislative session.

The House of Representatives on Feb. 2 passed a seven-day waiting period for firearm purchases and the measure now awaits a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House calendar also includes two other bills—to raise the legal age to 21 to own certain firearms (House Bill 127) and to ban gas-powered semiautomatic firearms (HB 137)—but neither had hit the floor for discussion as of press time Tuesday.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza favors raising the purchasing age, particularly in light of youth gun violence.

“I feel like there’s a glamorization of firearms sometimes by our youth, especially with social media and in groups. People feel that they need them; they think it’s cool, I guess,” Mendoza says. “Until you end up in a situation where crime occurs. At that point, it’s a little too late.”

The law limiting purchases would only apply to automatic and semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity feeding devices. The bill excludes .22 caliber rifles, typically used for hunting purposes.

Mendoza doesn’t agree, however, with the measures to impose a waiting period on firearm purchases or a ban of gas-powered semi-automatic firearms, noting “adding more laws isn’t always the answer…Restrictions and bans are something that I just can’t get behind. I don’t think that’s going to have a direct impact on the crimes that are occurring because, again, criminals normally don’t buy firearms through legitimate sources.”

Mendoza says time would be better spent investing in resources to support officers and bringing new people into the field.

From the prosecutor’s perspective, First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies tells SFR the state is “in dire need of common-sense gun legislation,” noting a rise in firearm-involved crimes over the years.

“We used to see maybe a road rage or a fight at a bar or in a grocery store parking lot, and people would use their fists or they might draw a knife, and they would yell at each other,” Carmack-Altwies says. “Now we’re seeing a much increased likelihood that one of those people involved in an incident is pulling a gun and that this makes it inherently more dangerous…and what we know is if a gun isn’t at the scene, it’s much more likely that no one’s going to die.”

Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR he fully supports the three gun measures and wants the state to take one step further. Late last year, Webber added to the city’s legislative priorities a plan to seek constitutional amendment to give local governments the ability to make their own gun laws stricter than the state’s. If the Legislature approved such an amendment, it would appear on a future election ballot. Webber had pushed back on state law prohibiting such autonomy previously with a measure that led to signs prohibiting weapons at city facilities.

“I would very much like to see the matter taken to the voters,” Webber says. “I think if there were a vote, and people were to change the constitution…that mayors would want to get together and talk about how we could cooperate to come up with remedies or approaches that would go beyond just one city but would involve the cities in New Mexico coming together around a reasonable, common sense approach to gun regulation.”

Sens. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, introduced a joint resolution proposing the amendment, but the Senate Rules Committee has held an initial hearing.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who declared gun violence a public health emergency via executive order, named the topic as one of her top priorities for the session that wraps Feb. 15. She listed several gun-law reforms on her wish list of bills, including the 14-day waiting period and age restrictions for purchases.

Committee and floor votes so far have divided along party lines, with mostly Republican opponents citing hunting as a primary reason to not ban gas-powered semiautomatic firearms or raise the legal age. Others, such as Rep. James G. Townsend, R-Artesia, argue people have the right to defend themselves based on the Second Amendment.

“I would just tell the body, we have to be factual and we have to understand that our job is not to push a political agenda, it’s to represent the people of New Mexico,” Townsend said during a House floor hearing on the waiting period, “and the people of New Mexico that are watching today overwhelmingly agree that…they have the right to go to the store and buy the car of their choice, the gun of their choice, the clothes of their choice. This is ridiculous.”

During debate in the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, argued restrictions on certain weapons makes sense for the state, including for its hunters.

“A hunter hunting a deer with an AR-15 is not a hunter…You don’t just spray the mountain with bullets. That’s what bothers me when I hear the debate on this,” Alcon said. “If you’re telling me that you have to have an automatic rifle to shoot a coyote, we’re in a bad world. We’re not human anymore.”

Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored both the waiting period and the ban on gas-powered semiautomatic rifles along, tells SFR while she acknowledges and respects the critiques, lawmakers are leading with data and responding to stories and pleas from constituents regarding firearms.

“There’s a very strong, common sense gun safety movement that is a real people-based movement that folks are just so tired of seeing gun violence, and they’re willing to try pretty much anything to see how it is that we can address these issues,” Romero says. “If we can take that statewide approach to make people feel safer, make people feel like we’re paying attention, that we’re looking at these options and opportunities, that’s our job…I really hope this year is the year for doing the most.”

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