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Firearms bill to face amendments

SANTA FE – The sponsor of a firearms proposal working its way through the House says she’s willing to amend the bill so it applies to fewer law-abiding gun owners.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard

As it stands now, the proposal by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, would require background checks when people sell, lend or give firearms to one another in private transactions.

But she said Saturday that she wants to focus on gun sales, not lending a firearm to a neighbor or someone else for personal protection.

Garcia Richard told the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, “I’m confident we can come up with better language.”

The committee voted 3-1 along party lines – Democrats in favor – to recommend passage of the measure, House Bill 50. It now heads to the Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the House floor.

It would also need approval from the Senate and Gov. Susana Martinez, who has not yet taken a position on the proposal.

A similar bill, meanwhile, has cleared its first committee in the Senate.

Supporters and opponents turned out in force for Saturday’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing, held on the House floor to accommodate the large audience.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace said the proposal will be impossible to enforce. Criminals, he said, generally get their weapons through theft or other illegal means.

“This bill does nothing to protect New Mexico,” Mace said. “The criminal element is going to obtain a weapon no matter how.”

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.

Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, was the lone vote against the bill Saturday. He said a cousin of his was shot.

“I know what many of you have gone through also,” he said, “but, right now, the majority of criminals do not get guns legally and if this law is passed … they will find another way to get guns.”

Garcia Richard brought a gun to the hearing.

It’s “amazingly easy to get a gun online or in a parking lot, no questions asked,” she said. “I know this because I did it myself.”

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee heard that estimate during a hearing on Saturday, just before voting 3-1 to allow the proposal, House Bill 89, to keep moving through the House. The committee made no recommendation on whether the bill ought to be passed or rejected.

The measure, sponsored by House Democrats Bill McCamley of Mesilla Park and Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, must go through two more committees before reaching the House floor.

“This is the one thing we can do this year that will instantly inject a massive amount of money into our economy and create jobs right away,” McCamley said.

Opponents said New Mexico should move cautiously, especially given that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“It’s too early for this,” said Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia. “We don’t know what we’re doing.”