SANTA FE – Conflicting currents in the national debate over gun regulations are converging on New Mexico as the state Legislature prepares to meet.
A Republican state senator pre-filed legislation this week to allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a concealed carry license if they already meet essential requirements. States including Missouri, West Virginia, Mississippi and Idaho enacted similar “constitutional carry” measures last year that allow concealed guns without a permit.
At the same time, leading Democratic lawmakers want to close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks against a federal database on nearly all private firearms transactions, with exceptions for transfers between relatives and brief transfers while hunting or target shooting. Another anticipated proposal would make it illegal for aggressors in domestic violence cases to possess a firearm while under a protective order, which advocates say would provide domestic violence victims with greater protection outside of criminal proceedings.
Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said his proposal on concealed weapons mimics active laws in 11 other states. He anticipates the bill will be a tough sell in New Mexico’s Legislature, where Democrats hold a majority. Licenses would be available for people seeking to carry a concealed gun in other states.
“A lot of people don’t want to be on a (concealed carry) registry because it’s already spelled out in the Constitution that you have a right to bear arms,” Neville said. He plans to amend the bill to maintain gun safety training requirements.
Active concealed carry licenses numbered 40,700 in 2014. New Mexico is a “shall issue” state that must provide a license to adults 21 or older who take a firearms training course and are not disqualified by felony convictions, adjudicated mental health issues or recent violations for driving while intoxicated, domestic violence or drug possession.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of the policy group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said the system has been effective.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said. “Our concealed carry laws are strict and are working. Why change?”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Martinez, D-Española, said he was approached by a lobbyist for the national group Everytown for Gun Safety to sponsor the bill that would extend background checks on sales at gun shows and other private firearms transactions. Under the measure, an unlicensed gun seller and buyer would go to a federally licensed dealer to complete a background check for a small fee before a sale could be completed.
Martinez expects to move the bill forward despite opposition from gun-industry allies, such as the National Rifle Association.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez had pledged to sign a similar 2013 bill that was derailed by a filibuster on the Senate floor. A spokesman for the governor said she has not studied this year’s firearms proposals.
A separate gun-regulation proposal is being drafted that would take away guns temporarily when protective orders are issued in civil court for domestic violence.
The December shooting deaths of three children in Albuquerque by their mother’s ex-boyfriend are likely to weigh on legislative discussions, though a restraining order apparently was not in effect against shooter George Daniel Wechsler. Wechsler turned his gun on himself and killed himself. The mother was wounded.
“You may have a domestic violence victim that doesn’t want to go through the criminal process but who wants the protection” from gun violence, said Jennifer Padgett, chief deputy district attorney for the state’s 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe, who helped develop the proposal with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s trying to get guns out of the hands of those who are statistically most volatile.”