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Senate panel OKs wider gun background checks

SANTA FE – One woman shared the story of her 75-year-old mother, gunned down during her vacation while she sipped her coffee.

A state lawmaker talked about teaching his sister to use a gun to help protect her from domestic abuse.

These stories – and other emotional testimony – emerged in a Senate committee hearing Tuesday over whether New Mexico should require background checks when people sell, lend or give firearms to one another in private transactions.

The bill won a recommendation of approval on a 5-3 party-line vote of the state Senate Public Affairs Committee, with Democrats in favor. It now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the Senate floor.

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Robin Brulé, an Albuquerque business leader whose mother was shot and killed a year ago, said she cried on the way to the Roundhouse.

“We do not want any other person or family to experience this pain,” she said as she testified in favor of the legislation.

On the other side, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he had trained his sister to use a gun to help protect her against abuse. But he said the restrictions on private transfers could keep him from doing something similar, such as lending a firearm, for someone who fears for his or her life but isn’t a close family member.

“This doesn’t provide anyone any safety,” Brandt said, “and I think it makes it more difficult for people in domestic violence situations to protect themselves.”

Under the proposal, people who want to sell, lend or give a firearm to someone else would have to go to a licensed dealer to have the background check done. The dealer could charge a “reasonable fee” for the work.

The bill applies to the “transfer” of firearms between people who aren’t licensed dealers.

There are some exceptions, such as transfers between close family members, transfers involving law enforcement or transfers at shooting ranges or during hunting trips.

The small committee room at the Capitol was packed an hour before the hearing started. Supporters of the legislation wore red T-shirts with the message “Moms Demand Action” on the front and “Everytown for Gun Safety” on the back.

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Opponents handed out orange stickers with a line through the bill numbers.

The proposal, Senate Bill 48, is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Richard Martinez, D-Española.

A duplicate measure, House Bill 50, is expected go before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Saturday. Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, is the sponsor.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and former prosecutor, hasn’t reviewed the proposals yet.

But she “is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and common-sense gun laws,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a written statement.

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