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At the Roundhouse: Guns Drawn

The gun control story in Tuesday’s Journal shows it’s hard for New Mexico’s part-time lawmakers to prepare for all of the At The Roundhouseissues that might confront them when they get to Santa Fe.

Deborah Baker reports that more than 200 people showed up at the Capitol for a hearing on Rep. Miguel Garcia’s bill to tighten up New Mexico’s laws on gun shows and private sales. (Gun Bill Stalls in House Committee)

The hearing had to be moved from a committee room to the House floor to accommodate the crowd.

The 16 members of the House Judiciary Committee listened to four hours of testimony on constitutional law, mental health and public safety issues. Some had heard it before, but a handful are new to the Legislature this year.

We knew after the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., and certainly after the Griego family tragedy in Albuquerque this month, (Five Dead; Teen Accused In Killing Spree)  that gun bills were certain to come before New Mexico lawmakers.

Baker and the Journal’s Dan Boyd reported before the session began that Garcia’s bill would be among the “high profile” issues of the 2013 session. (New Members, Old Issues).

And after President Barack Obama began talking about new gun control initiatives, there was a blow-up up over guns in the New Mexico session’s first week when Rep. Nora Espinoza introduced legislation to bar enforcement of federal firearm laws here. (Bill Aims to Disarm Fed Gun Controls).

Maybe we reporters sometimes don’t readily see what’s really got voters going, but it still was looking like other issues would dominate this year’s legislative horizon: the budget and health care, public employee pay raises, tax cuts and incentives for businesses, pension reform, the spaceport and illegal immigrant driver’s licenses among them.

The Legislature convened its 60-day session this year on Jan. 15. Legislators serving on 20 interim committees and subcommittees studied most of those issues between the 2012 session and this one. These are the committees designated to make legislative recommendations on the most pressing issues of the day.

I don’t find mention of firearms or gun control legislation in the summary of the committees’ 2012 work, but then who could see the tragedies coming in Aurora or Newtown or Albuquerque.

New Mexico’s “citizen” legislators are elected from 112 districts around the state. When they come to Santa Fe each year for alternating 60 and 30-day sessions, they often bring with them the latest concerns of voters back home.

Gun control has joined a long list of other subjects lawmakers will deal with before they return home in mid-March. Maybe the issue will cool, maybe not. And the budget, as usual, will almost certainly become the central issue of the session.

I could find only seven bills dealing with firearms introduced in the House and Senate as of Monday, but each of them apparently has the potential to draw the kind of attention Garcia’s bill got.

Bills dealing with firearms represent only a fraction of the 1,200 or so bills that will be introduced in the 2013 session. But each gun bill, along with all the others, is due a public hearing.  Lawmakers still will do a lot of listening before the session is out.

Even so,  few bills will emerge alive.

Roughly 1,200 bills were introduced in New Mexico’s last 60-day lawmaking session, in 2011. The passage rate was 23. 6 percent.

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