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NM gun laws under scrutiny after El Paso shootings

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, shown giving her State of the State address in January, announced Monday she will convene a domestic terrorism summit later this month in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The political fallout of a shooting in El Paso that left at least 22 people dead could lead to more scrutiny of firearm laws in neighboring New Mexico, where several gun-related bills have already been signed into law this year.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat, said Monday that she will invite top state law enforcement officials and legislative leaders from both political parties to take part in a summit on domestic terrorism in Santa Fe this month.

The summit, which will include a closed-door briefing from FBI officials, could lead to new state policies, and gun-related legislation may be drafted in advance of next year’s 30-day session, a Lujan Grisham spokesman said.

“It is too easy for dangerous, violent and mentally ill individuals to obtain an instrument of mass death in this country, and hateful rhetoric can directly lead to destructive and heinous acts,” the governor said in a statement. “In New Mexico, we will be on the front foot, and I look forward to this discussion.”

Although it’s unclear what proposals could come out of the summit, discussions on gun-related legislation had been taking place before this weekend’s rampage in El Paso, which was one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history.

A coalition of New Mexico sheriffs – who turned out in force earlier this year to oppose background checks and other gun legislation – is now working with state Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, on the possibility of compromise “red flag” legislation.

Legislation sponsored by Ely that would have allowed courts to order the temporary taking of guns from someone deemed an immediate threat passed the House of Representatives during this year’s 60-day session. But the proposal – sometimes referred to as a red flag law – failed to make it through the Senate before the session ended.

Similar laws have been enacted this year in more than a dozen states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

However, opponents of this year’s New Mexico bill say it failed to include adequate legal safeguards to protect the rights of gun owners.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, chairman of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, said Monday that his group is talking to Ely about the possibility of finding common ground.

“At the end of the day,” Mace said in an interview, “there’s got to be compromise on both sides to find that happy medium. I think we can get there.”

Ely said it’s too early to say whether the two sides will agree on legislation or whether the political environment for gun legislation will change after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

But “it is powerful evidence that this kind of bill might make a difference,” Ely said.

Mace said he would like to see new gun laws focus on mental health.

“We want to make sure weapons are not in the hands of the wrong people,” he said. But “we also have a duty and responsibility to make sure we’re not violating people’s constitutional rights.”

New laws

By several measures, Texas has more permissive gun laws than New Mexico.

For instance, Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law this year expanding background check requirements for gun sales, but a similar bill in Texas to close the so-called gun show loophole failed to gain traction.

Although both states require permits for concealed carrying of handguns, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed bills this year to make it easier to carry guns in churches, schools and declared disaster zones in the Lone Star State.

And unlike New Mexico, Texas has a “castle law” that allows individuals to use deadly force in some circumstances against intruders who enter their homes, cars or places of work.

The New Mexico background check measure was one of two gun bills that passed the Legislature this year and were signed into law by Lujan Grisham despite opposition from Republican lawmakers and most New Mexico sheriffs. The other new law prohibits the possession of guns by convicted domestic abusers.

The laws marked a breakthrough of sorts for gun control advocates, as measures limiting access to firearms have long faced resistance in New Mexico, which has one of the nation’s highest gun ownership rates.

‘No longer shocked’

Lujan Grisham said she would continue to push for measures improving public safety, adding that those blocking proposals to limit gun access are obstructing progress, peace and prosperity on both local and national levels.

“We are no longer shocked when mass gun violence happens in this country,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are no longer surprised by the disingenuous calls to set aside ‘political’ rhetoric in the wake of these killings.”

Authorities are investigating whether the El Paso gunman is the person who posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online before the shooting. It isn’t clear yet whether there were any other warnings ahead of the killing.

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