Firearm storage bill advances in the House - Albuquerque Journal

Firearm storage bill advances in the House

From right, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque; New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez; Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen; and Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, speak in support of a bill Tuesday that would create criminal charges — in certain circumstances — for gun owners who didn’t safely secure their guns. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — The first significant gun bill of the session — a proposal focused on the safe storage of firearms — began moving through the House on Tuesday, sailing through its first committee hearing on a party-line vote.

The legislation, House Bill 9, jointly sponsored by five Democrats, would make it a crime to store a firearm in a way that negligently disregards the ability of a minor to access it.

Criminal charges could be brought only if the minor later brandishes or displays the firearm in a threatening way or uses it to kill or injure someone.

The measure passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4-2 vote — with Democrats in favor — during a two-hour hearing that drew testimony from dozens of gun owners, law enforcement leaders and other New Mexicans.

Retired engineer Regina Griego, whose nephew shot and killed five family members in 2013, said the proposal could save lives by ensuring youngsters cannot take a parent’s gun.

“I’m convinced, without easy access to these firearms, my family members would be alive today,” she said.

Vanessa Sawyer, grandmother of Bennie Hargrove, a student who was shot and killed at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, speaks in support of a bill that would create the crime of negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Also offering testimony Tuesday was Vanessa Sawyer, grandmother of Bennie Hargrove, a middle school student shot and killed by a peer in 2021.

Lawmakers also heard from opponents — who questioned whether the law might leave gun owners without quick access to a firearm for self-defense. They also suggested firearms are being singled out inappropriately when knives, cars and other items also do tremendous harm.

Louie Sanchez, an owner of Calibers indoor shooting ranges, said his business sells safes and other items intended to promote safety. But the proposed legislation, he said, is misguided.

“We’re opposed to a punitive law,” he told lawmakers. “There’s no substitute for education, and we all know that.”

The proposal heads next to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially its final stop before the full House of Representatives. Senate approval would also be required.

Rep. Pamelya Herndon, an Albuquerque Democrat and one of the co-sponsors, said the bill has exemptions intended to protect good-faith efforts to safely store firearms.

Adult gun owners couldn’t be charged — even if a minor gained access to their gun — if they’d stored the firearm in a secure container or other place a reasonable person would believe is secure; the firearm was locked and inoperable; a minor broke into the home; or the gun was used in self-defense.

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