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Lawmakers send background checks bill to Lujan Grisham

SANTA FE — A proposal to expand New Mexico’s background check requirement for gun sales is almost on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — an enthusiastic supporter of the bill.

The proposal, Senate Bill 8, won approval 42-27 in the House late Monday, the last major step needed to send it to Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office at the beginning of the year.

Monday’s vote capped years of debate inside the Roundhouse over whether to require background checks before nearly every firearm sale in New Mexico.

The legislation also ignited opposition in rural parts of the state, as more than 20 counties declared themselves a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”

But Democratic lawmakers said the proposal is a commonsense way to make it harder for criminals to get firearms.

Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, described her own experience of undergoing a background check when she bought a gun at a pawn shop. She said it wasn’t onerous.

“Background checks stop criminals from obtaining weapons,” Chandler said. “Is it 100 percent? No, but no law that we can legislate in this body is going to be 100 percent.”

Republican lawmakers — often joined by sheriffs from around the state — have repeatedly slammed the proposal this session as an unenforceable law that will do nothing to make the public safer. It will be a particular hardship, they said, for people in rural areas, where it might be a long ride to the nearest licensed dealer.

“I doubt very seriously that criminals will follow these rules,” Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said.

She added later: “I really don’t know how you will police this in rural New Mexico.”

The bill would require a background check before nearly any gun sale, including private transactions between two individuals.

There would be exceptions for sales between two close family members or sales between law enforcement officers. Gifts and loans would be exempt.

Under the bill, people who want to sell a gun would arrange for a licensed dealer to do the background check. The dealer could charge up to $35.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Debbie Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, presented the bill during Monday’s three-hour floor debate.

The bill has just one more procedural step before going to the governor — the Senate must concur with a minor, one-word change made to the bill in a House committee.

Lujan Grisham said the bill is a meaningful step forward.

“We have a long way to go in curbing gun violence in New Mexico,” she said, “but I know, and I’m glad lawmakers agree, background checks are a smart, effective, minimally invasive and constitutional safeguard that can help us begin to turn the tide.”

Three Democrats voted against the bill — Harry Garcia of Grants, Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque and Candie Sweetser of Deming.

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