Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The Roundhouse is the kind of place where visitors occasionally show up with rifles and other firearms to demonstrate their Second Amendment rights.
And proposed gun restrictions often face skepticism, if they come up for debate at all.
But all three Democrats running for governor in New Mexico say they support a statewide ban on the sale of AR-15s – the style of semiautomatic rifle used in the killing of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla., last month.
“I don’t think any one thing in a vacuum solves this gun violence epidemic,” Democratic congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham said in an interview. “But quite frankly, these are military weapons – the only purpose is to kill other humans.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the race, said that banning AR-15s – in addition to other restrictions favored by Democrats – wouldn’t be an effective way to address mass shootings at schools and other public places.
Instead, the proposals would divert police resources to “cataloging and confiscating the guns of law abiding citizens,” he said in a written statement.
The December shooting at a high school in Aztec, for example, was carried out by a 21-year-old former student with a 9mm Glock pistol, not an AR-15.
“Both in Parkland and at Aztec there were clear warning signs that reached the FBI, yet nothing happened,” Pearce said. “These serious lapses cannot happen.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jeff Apodaca, a former television executive from Albuquerque, and state Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces attorney, favor bans on the sale of AR-15s, according to their campaigns.
All four candidates for governor say it will take a comprehensive approach to address shootings in New Mexico. But the Democratic hopefuls see a ban on AR-15-style weapons as part of the plan, in contrast to Pearce, who opposes the idea.
The candidates staked out their positions this week after hundreds of thousands students and others across the country and New Mexico rallied on Saturday against gun violence and mass shootings.
The Cervantes campaign pointed out that he sponsored legislation aimed at keeping firearms away from domestic abusers. The proposal, Senate Bill 259, cleared both chambers in 2017 but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who said judges can already prohibit people from possessing firearms in some circumstances.
“This bill would have ensured people convicted of domestic violence, would not have access to guns,” Cervantes spokesman Cody Aaron said in a written statement. “When Senator Cervantes is leading the state, the governor’s office will no longer be the deterrent to sensible gun reform measures.”
He said Cervantes supports a “complete ban on military-purposed weapons for the general public.”
Apodaca also favors a ban on “military assault weapons,” campaign spokesman Peter DeBenedittis said.
“These are weapons designed for war and have no place being in our schools and communities,” Apodaca said in a written statement. “As a hunter, I am proud of our 2nd Amendment rights. It’s not unreasonable to outlaw weapons of war.”
Lujan Grisham and Cervantes support bans on high-capacity magazines. Pearce opposes such a ban.
Apodaca said he would support limiting magazines to 10 rounds.
The primary election, when Democratic voters will pick a nominee, is June 5.
Gun control efforts
In New Mexico, new restrictions on firearms often fail to gain traction. In 2017, for example, a proposal to expand requirements for background checks failed to clear either chamber, both controlled by Democrats.
A proposal to prohibit the open carrying of firearms in the Capitol cleared the Senate that year but failed to make it out of the House. And Cervantes’ proposal to require domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms, at least temporarily, was vetoed by Martinez after it made it through the House and Senate.
State lawmakers this year have been debating how to improve safety at New Mexico schools, and thousands of young people turned out for marches Saturday, carrying signs such as “Protect me & my friends, not guns.”
Debate over the AR-15 itself – a catchall term some use to describe semiautomatic rifles of a similar style – has come into focus after an AR-15 was used in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
AR-15-style rifles have also played a role in mass shootings at a Las Vegas concert, a San Bernardino workplace and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The rifle is also popular with gun enthusiasts – a symbol of the constitutional right to bear arms. Supporters say they’re easy to use and modify, and the NRA once called it America’s most popular rifle.
The AR-15 is semiautomatic, meaning it fires one shot each time the trigger is pulled, not multiple shots like a fully automatic rifle.
In December, a 21-year-old gunman shot and killed two students at Aztec High School in northwestern New Mexico before killing himself. He used a 9mm Glock pistol.