Laws work best when we believe in their fairness. It is advisable to build consensus when crafting legislation. In the case of New Mexico’s new universal background check law, the opposite of consensus building occurred. In an act that has been repeated elsewhere in the U.S., urban and rural constituencies have rejected each other’s thinking with polarizing results.
This latest round of discord has been covered in the media, to wit, the governor’s and attorney general’s admonishment to Second Amendment sanctuary counties to enforce the law. But I doubt more political posturing will bring people together. What, may I ask, could have? Here are several suggestions our legislators ignored:
• Not all guns or gun transactions represent a credible threat. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows most guns recovered from criminals are handguns. But the new law treats the exchange of a .22 Rimfire rifle between concealed carry permit holders with the same gravity as selling a concealable Glock pistol to a perfect stranger in Albuquerque’s “war zone.” What legislators could have done was exempt concealed carry holders or, more broadly, created firearms owners ID cards to simplify background checks for both arms and ammunition.
• It’s not clear that we even know how prohibited persons in New Mexico get their guns. National and state studies give us hints. In that same BJS report, and similar studies carried out by Duke University professor Phillip Cook and colleagues in Illinois, we see that the lion’s share of criminals obtain their guns from a combination of acquaintances, the underground market, or less likely, theft. The BJS report breaks it down into about a quarter from family or friends and almost half from the underground criminal market. Less than 1 percent get them from “gun shows” and a few from dealers. The new law would work on that part of the market where law-abiding citizens are exchanging guns only if we obtain buy-in from the gun-owning public. Instead, our legislative gun control advocates treated gun owners with disdain.
• The bill was oversold. Gun deaths often rise and fall independently of gun laws, most dramatically shown with century-long data in New York City, or when comparing recent trends in gun violence in New York City and Chicago, where enforcement and social networking differences far more than laws contribute to different trends in violence rates. Gun violence student Dr. Michael Weisser says that in Colorado, gun homicides rose after its 2013 UBC law went into effect. Judicial and sociological issues strongly influence violence rates. A little more honesty on the effects of this bill could have led to an informed discussion and perhaps a more comprehensive, science-based solution.
• Finally, one would hope your legislators care about your opinion. In 2017, I worked closely with my representative, now-former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, trying to craft a background check bill with gun owner buy-in. I offered to do the same with my Santa Fe representatives this time and was met with studied silence or, for the most part, cursory replies. I heard from a leader of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association that other gun owners met studied silence. It’s not hard to figure out why. Although the NRA is the left’s boogeyman, Everytown for Gun Safety lavished almost $400,000 in campaign cash on our Legislature, dwarfing the NRA’s efforts, to ensure its voice drowned out everyone else’s.
A carefully written background check bill that hits the target of our violence problems while obtaining maximum buy-in from New Mexico’s gun owning public would be a great idea and could only help, but not help as much as crafting solutions with broad-based buy-in. What the bill’s supporters did instead was broaden the abyss between gun rights and gun control. The present political standoff was predictable and perhaps preventable.