SANTA FE — A proposal to ban AR-15-style rifles in New Mexico began moving through the Roundhouse on Tuesday as Democratic legislators pursue aggressive new gun-control measures intended to address mass shootings and other crime.
On a series of party-line votes, members of a House committee advanced legislation to establish a two-week waiting period for firearm purchases and prohibit the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles and handguns.
The ban would go into effect in March 2024, with some exemptions for people who already have the prohibited firearms.
Republican lawmakers and other opponents who crammed into a packed committee room to testify on the proposals said the restrictions would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter crime.
Supporters showed up in force, too, and a crowd filled the hallway as people waited for a seat.
Rep. Andrea Romero, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-sponsor of the bills, said the legislation would reduce suicide by establishing a “cooling off” period for gun purchases and help prevent the massacre of children at schools by removing “weapons of war” from city streets.
“This essentially is a mass-shootings prevention bill,” Romero said.
Opponents said the proposals would keep domestic violence victims from arming themselves in an emergency and would restrict the rights of gun enthusiasts who legally bought their firearms.
One rancher called the proposals a “declaration of war” on gun owners.
“A right delayed is a right denied,” San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari said. “This is going to prevent people from protecting themselves against their aggressors.
“Let’s go after the bad guys, not law abiding citizens.”
Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said the proposed restrictions would abridge people’s right to self defense.
“This bill is hugely problematic for me on so many levels,” she said of the proposed ban.
Supporters also helped fill the room. Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged lawmakers to keep in mind the damage caused by shootings.
“We bury the victims,” he said. “These are real people with real mourning families.”
The proposed 14-day waiting period is contained in House Bill 100.
A separate proposal, House Bill 101, would ban the sale and possession of “assault weapons” — defined as semiautomatic rifles and handguns with certain characteristics — but with a grandfather clause.
Among the items restricted would be a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip.
People who owned the prohibited firearms before the law took effect could keep them but would face limits on where they could take them. They would have to submit paperwork to the state.
Possession would be permitted, for example, at firing ranges and sport shooting competitions.
The proposals considered Tuesday are still at an early stage. They passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on identical 4-2 votes and head next to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially their final step before reaching the full chamber.
House approval would send the bills to the Senate. To reach the governor’s desk, the bills must navigate both chambers by noon March 18.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised Tuesday’s action on the assault weapons ban.
“I am a firm believer in responsible gun ownership — that’s not up for debate,” she said in a statement after the vote. “But the fact of the matter is that our communities, our families and our law enforcement are put at risk every single day when weapons of war fall into the wrong hands.”
Also advancing at the Capitol this session are proposals to ban firearms at polling places, raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and prohibit the sale of hollow-point bullets.
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest.
A total of 562 state residents died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries — up significantly from 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020, according to state Department of Health data.
Of that number, more than half — or 319 cases — were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides.
Dan Boyd of Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this article.
Gun bills advancing at Capitol
Senate Bill 171: Prohibit sale or transfer of semiautomatic pistols with certain characteristics, machine guns, short-barrel rifles and shotguns, and hollow-point bullets or other ammunition that designed to explode or segment on impact.
House Bill 9: 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. Advanced past two committees, awaiting action by full House.
House Bill 100: Establish a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm.
House Bill 101: Prohibit sale or possession of assault weapons.
Senate Bill 44: Prohibit carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place during an election.
Senate Bill 116: Raise the minimum age to 21 for purchasing an automatic or semiautomatic firearm.