Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico lawmakers in recent years have passed laws expanding background check requirements for firearm purchases and allowing guns to be seized from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
But with the state’s firearm violence rate still high, many voters want lawmakers to enact additional gun control measures.
Specifically, 72% of voters surveyed in a recent Journal Poll said they support increasing the minimum age to buy an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, while 73% said they support making it a crime for individuals to fail to safely secure firearms from children.
While Democratic voters were significantly more likely to support the gun control measures, a majority of Republican voters surveyed also expressed support for both proposals.
A total of 61% of GOP voters surveyed support making it a crime to fail to store guns safely around children, while 53% of Republicans said they support raising the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style rifles.
“We’re seeing that even conservative voters, at least a small majority of them support raising the minimum age to purchase certain firearms,” said Brian Sanderoff, the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.
Recent mass shootings involving AR-15-style rifles have reignited a national debate about gun laws.
Most recently, the gunman in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in May reportedly bought two AR-15-style rifles the day after he turned 18, the minimum age to buy firearms. Those weapons were then used to kill 19 students and two teachers.
While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said court rulings might preclude raising the age to buy certain firearms, some victims’ parents have lobbied for the change.
In New Mexico, the shootings could renew debate at the Roundhouse about firearm safety measures, and whether such laws are effective at reducing gun violence in a state with the nation’s seventh-highest firearm fatality rate as of 2020.
A proposal during this year’s legislative session that would have made a “reckless” failure to keep firearms out of the reach of children a fourth-degree felony stalled in a House committee due to concerns it would be hard to enforce and could have unintended consequences.
But Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, has vowed to bring back the bill if she wins reelection in November.
While the Journal Poll found significant support among voters for the two gun control proposals, Sanderoff said opponents of such ideas could be vocal in a state with a deeply-rooted firearm culture.
In recent years, some lawmakers have argued that societal problems are more to blame than guns for a recent increase in violent crime in New Mexico.
“Even though only 20% of voters oppose raising the age limit, those people might have very strong feelings about the Second Amendment and making any changes to gun laws,” Sanderoff said.
While a majority of voters surveyed supported both gun control proposals regardless of their gender and ethnicity, women were more likely than men to support the ideas and Hispanic voters were slightly more supportive than were Anglo voters.
Gubernatorial race 2022
The issues of crime and gun violence could also play a role in this year’s race for governor.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called for a statewide ban on AR-15-style rifle sales – for all ages – while Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti has said New Mexico should stiffen penalties for gun crimes, make it a felony to threaten a school shooting and improve school safety via technology improvements.
In response to a Journal question on gun control proposals, Ronchetti said the state’s focus should be on going after criminals, not “law-abiding citizens.”
Among voters who said they planned to vote in November for Lujan Grisham, an overwhelming 89% said they supported raising the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style rifles while just 8% of her backers opposed the idea.
Voters who said they would vote for Ronchetti were more divided, but 49% said they backed the proposal compared to 39% of Ronchetti supporters who opposed it.
The numbers were similar for the proposal to make it a crime to leave guns within the reach of children, though voters who said they planned to back Ronchetti were even more strongly in support of that plan.
Meanwhile, undecided voters and those who said they planned to vote for Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie also said they supported both gun control proposals by significant margins, the Journal Poll found.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 518 voters who cast ballots in the 2018 and/or 2020 general election and who said they are likely to vote in the upcoming election.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 19 through Aug. 25. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (79%) and landlines (21%) of proven general election voters were used.