SANTA FE — With the grandmother and three sisters of Bennie Hargrove looking on, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed into law a bill that will — starting in mid-June — allow prosecutors to file criminal charges against adults who fail to keep firearms out of kids’ reach.
The safe storage bill, House Bill 9, was prompted by the 2021 shooting death of Hargrove outside Washington Middle School in Albuquerque by a fellow student who had allegedly taken one of his father’s guns from home.
During the bill signing ceremony in the Governor’s Office, Lujan Grisham told Hargrove’s grandmother, Vanessa Sawyer, the state was “incredibly sorry for what you’ve been through.”
“This is a state that will do everything in its power to eliminate and curb gun violence,” the Democratic governor added, expressing specific concern about a prevalence of guns among New Mexico youth.
For her part, Sawyer thanked Lujan Grisham for signing the bill, saying, “Even if it’s just one life we save, that’s an important thing.”
Specifically, the measure signed Tuesday will allow prosecutors to charge individuals for negligently allowing a minor to obtain a firearm. The seriousness of the criminal offense — either a misdemeanor or fourth-degree felony — will depend on whether the child used the gun to harm themselves or others, or if they simply brandished it.
Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill and was one of several legislators who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, said Bennie Hargrove was killed after trying to stop fellow student Juan Saucedo Jr. from bullying his friends.
“Bennie Hargrove succumbed to the violence he was trying to stop,” Herndon said, adding bill supporters will launch an outreach effort around New Mexico about the new law and distribute gun locks.
Two survivors of gun violence also spoke at the bill-signing ceremony — Nathaniel Tavarez, who was injured in a 2014 Roswell school shooting and Alexis Molina, who survived a mass shooting at a Clovis library in 2017.
However, with less than four full days left in this year’s 60-day legislative session, several other gun safety measures — including a proposed 14-day waiting period to buy firearms and a bill banning guns from polling places — appear to face long odds at the Roundhouse.
Republicans have staunchly opposed most of the proposals, though House GOP floor leader Ryan Lane of Aztec is leading the push for a bill criminalizing straw purchases of firearms, or when someone buys a gun for a convicted felon.
During the debate over the safe storage bill, Republican legislators argued such a law would be incompatible with rural New Mexico’s gun culture and could criminalize law-abiding citizens.
While they failed to block the bill from advancing to the governor’s desk, they did win approval of an amendment excluding hunting and other recreational activities involving firearms from being covered by the bill.
Lujan Grisham, who expressed recent frustration that some gun measures hadn’t moved more rapidly, said Tuesday there’s still plenty of time for lawmakers to advance legislation.
She also downplayed the likelihood of calling a special legislative session if they are not approved before Saturday’s adjournment — with a caveat.
“Whatever doesn’t get upstairs will get reintroduced in the 30-day session,” said the governor, referring to next year’s session in which the governor can decide which non-budgetary bills should be placed on the legislative agenda.