GOP candidates, Lujan Grisham offer contrast on gun legislation - Albuquerque Journal

GOP candidates, Lujan Grisham offer contrast on gun legislation

A week after a gunman ran into a Texas grade school and started shooting, the first of 21 funerals began on Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas. Hundreds of mourners turned out for an afternoon Mass to remember Amerie Jo Garza, who was among the 19 children killed when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementry School. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

SANTA FE – Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed gun restrictions into law and called for a statewide ban on the sale of AR-15-style rifles – a position she reiterated Tuesday in response to the recent massacre at a Texas elementary school.

Republicans competing to challenge her this fall, by contrast, say they would defend gun rights and focus on other safety initiatives, such as strengthening mental health services and school security.

Their comments come as New Mexico heads into next week’s primary election, when GOP voters will choose a nominee to face Lujan Grisham, who is seeking her second term.

Republican candidate Greg Zanetti, an Albuquerque financial adviser and retired general, called the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a “senseless tragedy.” An 18-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle, police say, killed 19 children and two teachers in the attack.

Policy changes in response to the school shooting, Zanetti said, should focus on armed guards, metal detectors, mental health services and limiting points of entry.

“Further infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens,” he said, “is not the answer.”

Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist at KRQE, said New Mexico should stiffen penalties for gun crimes, make it a felony to threaten a school shooting and invest in technology and other infrastructure “to keep our schools the safest places in our communities.”

The state, he said, should also take steps to encourage retired police officers to begin a second career protecting schools.

“We need to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them – including criminals and those who threaten to harm others and commit acts of mass violence,” Ronchetti said in a written statement to the Journal.

“This can be done while protecting the very important right afforded to all Americans under the 2nd Amendment.”

Republican candidate Rebecca Dow, a state legislator from Truth or Consequences, has voted repeatedly against legislation that would restrict gun rights. She said Tuesday that the state can respond to school shootings without interfering with adults’ constitutional rights. “Mental health needs, partially early interventions, need to be addressed,” Dow said in a written statement. “It is critical that we find solutions that do not restrict the 2nd amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

The Journal was unable to reach the remaining two GOP candidates, Jay Block and Ethel Maharg, for comment by deadline Tuesday, but they have expressed support for gun rights.

Block said on his campaign website that he has “fought for our Second Amendment liberties” as a member of the Sandoval County Commission, and Maharg said in a video on her site that the”Second Amendment was put in place to protect our First Amendment rights to free speech.”

AR-15 ban?

The Texas school shooting is already intensifying debate among New Mexico lawmakers over how to protect schools and students. A 60-day legislative session starts in January.

But voters have a chance to shake up the state’s political leadership before then.

Races for governor, attorney general and all 70 seats in the state House are on the ballot this year.

Since 2019, Democratic majorities in the Legislature have passed three major gun bills, all signed into law by Lujan Grisham.

The legislation requires background checks before almost any gun sale; allows the temporary seizure of firearms from those considered a danger to themselves or others, a mechanism known as a “red flag law;” and mandates that domestic abusers surrender their guns. The Lujan Grisham campaign said Tuesday that her administration has provided funding to make behavioral health care more accessible, for law enforcement programs intended to break the cycle of violence and to provide more training to officers who work in schools.

The governor also has advocated for a ban on the sale of AR-15-style rifles.

Lujan Grisham “has consistently called for a ban on the sale of some semi-automatic weapons, including assault rifles, for people of all ages,” campaign spokeswoman Kendall Witmer said in response to Journal questions. Debate over gun legislation has triggered some of the most intense debates at the Capitol in recent years, inciting opposition by some New Mexico sheriffs and drawing crowds for Second Amendment rallies.

Some firearms legislation has been blocked, including a proposal by Democratic Rep. Pamelya Herndon of Albuquerque this year to make it a crime to recklessly store a firearm that a minor gains access to. She has vowed to bring back the bill if she wins reelection.

Campus killings

New Mexico has had two deadly school shootings since 2017, in addition to one adjacent to a school.

Bennie Hargrove, a 13-year-old student at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, was killed by a classmate last year, and two teenagers died in 2017 at Aztec High School in the Four Corners area.

Albuquerque Public Schools operates its own police department, with officers who carry guns.

Five Republican candidates are competing in next week’s primary for the nomination to face Lujan Grisham next fall. A Libertarian candidate, Karen Bedonie, will also be on the ballot.

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