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Gun Debate Likely To Intensify

SANTA FE (AP) — The shooting deaths of five members of an Albuquerque family likely will intensify a debate in the Legislature over restrictions on firearms, lawmakers said Monday.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested in Saturday’s shooting deaths of his parents, a brother and two younger sisters. A .22-caliber rifle and a semi-automatic military-style rifle, which were kept in the parents’ closet, were used in the shootings, according to authorities.

House Speaker W. Ken Martinez, a Grants Democrat, said the Legislature may need to consider gun safety issues, such as providing assistance to people to buy trigger locks or other devices for securely storing firearms.

“Sometimes we look at everything from the point of view of just making it more criminal. The deterrent effect of making it more criminal doesn’t do any good when it’s kind of an out-of-your mind type of event,” Martinez said, adding that he wasn’t speculating on what may have caused the killing in Albuquerque.

Most lawmakers knew a close relative of one of the shooting victims.

Former Sen. Eric Griego is the brother of the Greg Griego, a volunteer chaplain who was killed in the shooting. Eric Griego didn’t seek re-election last year.

Gun restrictions were surfacing for debate in the Legislature in the wake of a Connecticut school shooting and before the Albuquerque killings.

A Democratic legislator, Rep. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque, has proposed expanding background checks to people who buy firearms from private gun owners, including at gun shows. He said he expected the local shootings to cause other lawmakers to offer proposals to ban the sale of military-style weapons and restrict large-capacity magazines for guns.

But Garcia said it’s uncertain whether there will be more support for gun restrictions, which traditionally have run into stiff opposition in New Mexico.

“It may not make you change your views if you’re totally against any type of gun control,” but perhaps opponents will not “close their minds” to some changes in law, Garcia said.

Rep. Nora Espinoza, a Roswell Republican, said lawmakers need to learn more about the Albuquerque shooting before reacting with gun legislation.

“If it’s about a law-abiding citizen, why change the law? If it’s a minor, or if they’re drinking or there’s drugs, then that’s where we need to focus. Our focus needs to be on those that are breaking the law — on the criminals,” said Espinoza, who proposed a measure last week to ban enforcement of federal gun laws in New Mexico.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said she supports legislation to help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The administration wants to ensure the state provides federal authorities, which conduct background checks on gun buyers, with accurate and timely information on people that a court has found to be mentally ill or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, said the state must ensure there’s adequate funding for treatment and other services for the mentally ill.

“These types of tragedies need to stop, and we need to figure out a way to talk about this issue in common sense terms instead of the emotion that it brings on both sides,” Sanchez said of gun law changes.