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Senate to consider gun background-check bill

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A proposal now heading to the Senate floor would expand background-check requirements to almost every firearm sale in New Mexico.

The legislation, Senate Bill 8, narrowly passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday after a two-hour hearing in a packed meeting room at the Roundhouse.

It would make it a crime to sell a firearm without conducting a background check. Federally licensed firearms dealers already must conduct background checks.

But the proposal would apply to private transactions between individuals – such as sales between friends, family members or strangers who meet up through a classified ad.

Under the bill, supporters say, individuals who want to sell a gun would go to a licensed dealer and pay to have the background check done there.

Proponents said it would make it harder for criminals to obtain guns. They said they tried to keep the legislation narrow by exempting gifts or loans, allowing a father to, say, provide a gun to his daughter for protection.

“It’s a reasonable, common-sense approach,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Opponents argued the legislation would penalize law-abiding gun owners and do nothing to keep firearms away from criminals, who will continue to steal firearms or obtain them on the black market. In rural areas, they said, it could take gun owners three hours to drive to a firearms dealer.

The proposal would “criminalize good people,” said Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo. “We’re not fixing anything with this bill.”

Senate Bill 8 passed 5-4 along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Democrats rejected Republican-sponsored amendments that would have created an exception for sales between members of the same household and limited the background-check requirement to sales that involve a “fee.”

As it stands now, the bill would require a background check for any sale that involves “consideration” – a legal term that Wirth said was intended to cover the trading of drugs to obtain a gun.

Violating the proposed law would be a misdemeanor. There would be some exceptions, such as sales involving law enforcement officers.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Wirth and Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española.

A similar bill is pending in the House.

Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

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