There are few issues that arouse political passions any more than gun rights vs. gun control – especially in the wake of tragic mass shootings like Parkland High School or closer to home the shootings at Aztec High School.
On one extreme are those who would ban guns if they could, and certainly would limit the kinds that could be purchased, with the other extreme arguing there is a virtually unlimited right to bear arms of any kind, anywhere, guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between extremes and several pieces of legislation pending in Santa Fe find a common-sense middle ground because they put the focus where it should be: keeping firearms out of the hands of the wrong people.
Similar bills in the House and Senate would make it a crime to sell a firearm without conducting a background check – something that can be done through a federally licensed firearms dealer for about $45. What does that mean? It would help keep guns out of the hands of felons, people with documented mental health problems, illegal immigrants and others who couldn’t purchase a gun from a licensed gun shop.
SB 8 is being carried by Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Judiciary Committee chairman Richard Martinez of Española, both Democrats.
Would it stop criminals and cartel drug dealers from selling and buying guns on the black market? Of course not. But it could help avoid the next school shooting.
As it stands now, if you go into a reputable gun shop and purchase a firearm, a background check is required. If you agree to purchase one from some sketchy character in a parking lot in response to an ad on the internet, it’s no questions asked. How can anyone argue this makes sense?
Other proposed legislation follows a similar pattern:
• House Bill 40 would close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring any vendor to conduct a background check before transferring a weapon.
• House Bill 83 would allow family members or police officers to seek a court order to temporarily take guns away from someone they believe is an immediate threat. Of course, a judge would have to agree.
• House Bill 87 would prohibit someone convicted of battery on a household member and certain other crimes from having a firearm. The same would apply to people subject to a restraining order in some circumstances. Of course, reasonable time limits should be built in – these should not be lifetime bans.
Republicans in the Legislature have so far opposed these bills. They would be better served saving their rhetorical ammunition for proposals that truly over reach. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has made it clear local and state government can’t ban guns. It struck down a Washington, D.C., law in 2008 and expanded it via a Chicago lawsuit in 2010. It has just agreed to hear its first gun law challenge in nearly a decade in a case challenging an unreasonable New York City ban on transporting a weapon.
It’s worth noting Chicago has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, yet hundreds of gun murders a year. Despite the strict rules on gun ownership in Mexico – you can have certain weapons, but only in your home – it has double the U.S. murder rate with one third the population.
So, no, these proposals in Santa Fe won’t stop gun violence, but they do try to address what we know are problems while acknowledging the constitutional right to bear arms.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez says the legislation isn’t perfect, but “it’s time for us to take a stand.” He’s right, and keeping guns away from those who clearly shouldn’t have them is a good place to start.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.