SANTA FE – The state House has voted to close a gun show loophole that allows private vendors to sell weapons without doing background checks on buyers.
The legislation has the support of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, and eight Republicans joined all but three of the chamber’s Democrats to pass the bill 43-26.
It headed to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain.
House Bill 77 would require private sellers at gun shows to have background checks done on prospective buyers before they make a sale.
The bill’s backers said it would keep at least some guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them – felons, for example, or the mentally incompetent – and curb gun violence.
Its sponsor, Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, contended that some private sellers at shows require no identification and ask no questions before selling Glock pistols and AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
Because federal firearms licensees are already required to conduct background checks, the proposal simply creates consistency at gun shows, supporters argued during 2 1/2 hours of debate.
“Background checks are a good thing. … This is not about insulting gun owners,” said Rep. Bill McCamley, a Mesilla Park Democrat who told his colleagues he owns five guns.
Opponents of the bill branded it a knee-jerk response to the recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado and the wounding of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. – none of which involved weapons from gun shows.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, called it “a crime prevention bill that has absolutely no chance of preventing crime” and claimed it infringed on the constitutional right to bear arms.
Hammers are used to kill people, and so are kitchen knives, he said, so why not require background checks at hardware shows or plug the “bridal show loophole”?
Opponents also said it would be too easy to skirt the gun show background check requirement – by ducking into the parking lot or heading later to a private home.
Supporters said the bill wasn’t just a reaction to the recent high-profile tragedies, but to the thousands of homicides and suicides annually involving guns.
“We’re not politicizing a tragedy. We’re responding to a real need in our community and our country,” said Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque.
The bill was originally far broader, requiring background checks for all private transactions. It was narrowed to gun shows only, and a mental health component sought by the governor was added.
That provision puts into law what the Administrative Office of the Courts is already doing: reporting to the FBI the criminal convictions and mental health adjudications that make people ineligible under federal law to have guns. That puts the state in line for some reporting-related federal funding.
A spokesman for Martinez called the legislation a “common-sense compromise.”
“She does not believe there should be a loophole where felons or the mentally ill can avoid a background check by purchasing a firearm at a gun show,” Enrique Knell said.
The bill requires that the background checks be done by federal firearms licensees whom gun show organizers would have to make available. Buyers with concealed carry licenses would not have to undergo checks, nor would checks be required for the purchase of “antique” or “relic” firearms. LEGISLATURE 2013
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal