By Jennie Lusk
It’s likely many of us are confounded by the fate of gun bills introduced by good Democrats at the New Mexico 2023 legislative session.
So much talk. So few actual results. Why? The answer is not clear.
It could be that flaws in each of the bills would have prevented success, even if all were heard and carefully considered.
It could be that the Wild West is alive and well, and New Mexicans just can’t stand the thought of any limits to firearms under the Second Amendment.
It could be that the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to have undue influence through contributions to our legislators—even after its executive vice president Wayne Lapierre’s elephant hunt last year exposed his lack of acquaintance with guns. (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-secret-footage-of-nra-chief-wayne-lapierres-botched-elephant-hunt)
But it could be that we haven’t tried hard enough or that our voices are not loud enough to let legislators know that we need and expect gun laws that protect us. The 56th legislature was, it seems, a lost opportunity.
While there was talk of a special session to address crime, there has been little discussion of anything specific about regulating guns, even though terrifying gun violence still stalks our schools and other gathering spaces.
President Biden signed federal gun violence legislation last spring—the first such legislation in 30 years. It expanded “red flag” laws and background checks for young people between the ages of 18-21 and restricted gun ownership from more domestic violence perpetrators, after the Uvalde, TX school shootings. He is still pushing for a restoration of the assault weapons ban in the wake of the Nashville school shootings this year When Biden was signing the new legislation, the Gun Violence Archive counted 281 mass shootings in 2022; already this week in 2023, the count is at 130.
The City of Albuquerque prohibited carrying guns on Civic Plaza back in 2020—a definite step in the right direction. However, despite the fact that Mayor Tim Keller’s decision to prohibit guns in such a central public arena did not, as some might warn, lead to the fall of democracy, other New Mexico jurisdictions have not followed suit and it doesn’t appear they are considering outright prohibitions.
Perhaps we just should be grateful for the progress legislators and the governor made: Rep. Pamelya Herndon pushed through HB 9, a bill that adds a penalty for a gun crime, and the Governor immediately signed it. That was a true accomplishment because it did SOMETHING that penalized a gun owner—in this case, establishing the potential for a felony charge against a parent who negligently allows a minor access to a firearm when the minor later brandishes or injures someone with the firearm. That’s a start.
• But the Senate, too, could have made a dent in gun violence by forming a task force to study New Mexico’s problems with and responses to limits on firearms, as suggested by Sens. Shannon Pinto, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Brenda McKenna in SM 67. Unfortunately, that bill, which could have passed with only a majority in the Senate without the need of approval in the House or by the Governor, was heard in only one committee, where it died.
• What about our “red flag” law, providing a shorter route to disarming someone who is a danger to others or to him or herself? Amendments to New Mexico’s 2020 Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act were discussed prior to the session, but not introduced.
• What about prohibiting firearms at polling places, as proposed by Sen. Peter Wirth in SB 44—an effort that could make all of us more likely to vote in person? The bill passed the Senate but wasn’t voted on by the House.
• What about imposing a waiting period before a gun purchase can be finalized, as proposed in Rep. Andrea Romero’s HB 100? That bill stalled after getting one hearing and languished during the second half of the session.
• What about a ban on large capacity magazines and/or assault weapons as suggested by Assault Weapons Regulation Act proposed by Rep. Romero in HB 101, building on the federal Act? It passed the House public affairs committee and progressed no further.
• What about raising the age to purchase a gun as proposed by Sen. Carrie Hamblen and Rep. Reena Szczepanski in SB 116? The Senate public affairs committee approved it back in January and the issue was not further considered in either chamber.
• What about establishing that unlawful manufacturing, selling, advertising or distributing a firearm in opposition to New Mexico law can bring civil penalties to the seller under the State’s Unfair Practices Act (UPA), as proposed by Sen. Joe Cervantes in SB 428? That bill passed the Senate and passed the House judiciary committee with some amendments, but was not heard on the House floor.
• What about enhancing penalties for carrying a gun in a high-population area (of approximately 90 thousand people) while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, as proposed by Rep. Joy Garratt in HB 224? It was never heard in a single committee.
It seems reasonable to expect from this session with our Democratic majority and our increasingly comfortable representation by women (if that matters) that some legislation substantially limiting the LIKELIHOOD of more gun violence in New Mexico could get through the legislative process.
Although it’s true that legislation limiting access to guns is not the only—or perhaps even the best—way to reduce gun violence, many might have wished for some actual progress. Perhaps while we wait for the day substantive gun violence reduction legislation passes, we can promote more gun buy-backs. Perhaps investing in more programs to teach the use of de-escalation techniques, to encourage reducing alcohol and drug use, and to intervene in domestic violence situations will be effective.
But we need to do everything we can, and trust that our elected leaders know we support them in doing everything they can to stop gun violence. Now.