Some state lawmakers in Santa Fe think the time is ripe for more laws targeting firearms. They’re right — but each law should truly address criminal behavior.
The prevalence of gun crime — from another record murder rate in Albuquerque to massacres that range from Uvalde, Texas, last year to three back-to-back-to-back shootings this past week in California — has added to the sense of urgency that more should be done to limit the carnage.
Unfortunately, the firearms industry has excelled in crafting what has been a bulletproof refrain: Criminals don’t abide by firearms laws, so law-abiding citizens need the same kind of firepower as the bad guys. Any limit is an infringement on their ability to protect themselves. This is the tension that pervades America’s gun debate. One person’s gun safety legislation is another’s attack on the Second Amendment. Expect a wave of litigation if our state’s lawmakers go too far.
Of the seven bills introduced so far in the Legislature, three are sure to be non-starters for Second Amendment advocates. Critics will say prohibiting high-capacity magazines, semiautomatic “assault-style weapons” or semiautomatic converters that allow weapons to fire more rapidly punish law-abiding citizens by limiting their ability to stay on equal footing with criminals. And passage of a ban automatically could transform thousands of law-abiding citizens who own such firearms into criminals. The merits of each notwithstanding, the proposals face an uphill battle.
But the other four zero in on specific, sensible steps that can make a difference without feeding the belief the government is coming for our guns. Ditto for a proposal from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
• We’ve been clear the principle underlying the Bennie Hargrove bill is a good idea. It’s named after Bennie Hargrove, killed at an Albuquerque middle school in 2021 by another 13-year-old who brought his father’s handgun to school. The bill died in committee last year, but it’s back as House Bill 9, which makes it a crime to fail to properly secure a firearm that’s accessible to an unsupervised minor.
We’ve seen too many preventable tragedies involving children, as well as rampant theft of unsecured guns that are then used in crimes. New Mexico needs a statute that spells out safe and responsible storage of weapons rules.
• Another sensible bill is Senate Bill 44 prohibiting the carrying of a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place during an election. In last year’s Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, justices agreed it is “settled” there are “sensitive places” where carrying guns could be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment, such as polling places, legislative bodies and courthouses.
• Raising the minimum age to 21 for purchasing an automatic or semiautomatic firearm, SB 116 sends the message that ownership of these guns requires a level of maturity without infringing on family hunting traditions. A common thread in many mass shootings, including Uvalde, is the attackers were 18 years old and bought AR-style, semi-automatic rifles legally.
• And establishing a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm, HB 100, ensures that guns aren’t impulse/anger buys, though the argument of some potential buyers needing immediate self protection is compelling.
In her State of the State address, the governor also called for closing a loophole to allow prosecution when a person buys a gun for a someone not legally able to make the purchase themselves — often a person with a criminal record. Punishing “straw buyers” would close a loophole that encourages criminal behavior.
State Rep. Andrea Romero — a Santa Fe Democrat sponsoring an assault weapons ban and waiting period for gun purchases — characterized the gun-related measures as “smart pieces of legislation.” While every piece of legislation deserves robust debate, Romero is on the right track when she says she’s open to changes to “make these laws strong, but fair.” Here’s hoping lawmakers can make the compromises needed to come up with gun laws that truly make us a safer state.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.