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Bill to curb guns in Capitol OK’d

SANTA FE – Supporters of gun rights have occasionally carried semiautomatic rifles and other firearms to the Roundhouse.

But they wouldn’t be able to carry them into the building itself under a proposal heading to the Senate floor.

The bipartisan proposal – sponsored by Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and William Sharer, R-Farmington – would prohibit openly carrying firearms inside the Capitol, unless the person is a law enforcement officer.

Residents with a permit to carry a concealed weapon could also have a firearm, if they keep it concealed.

Sharer said the goal was to make it harder to intimidate people by carrying a rifle around or into a committee hearing – where there’s often intense debate over firearms legislation.

“Waving a rifle around in my face pisses me off,” Sharer told a Senate committee. “We don’t need that level of excitement.”

Two Democrats opposed the bill. They raised questions about whether it went far enough.

It wouldn’t prevent, for example, a mass shooting or the collateral damage if someone sets out to kill a legislator, they said. The possibility of metal detectors came up.

“I don’t know that this bill solves anything,” said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales.

Sharer said protection wasn’t the goal. The bill is aimed at making people feel more comfortable – not nervous because the person sitting behind them in a committee hearing has a rifle.

“If somebody wants to kill one of us, they’re going to do it,” Sharer said. “We can’t stop it – not with this bill, not with any bill.”

As for protection, legislators and others could still carry a concealed weapon if they have a permit, he said.

The Senate Finance Committee recommended passage of the bill Tuesday, and it now heads to the Senate floor. It would also need approval by the House and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to become law.

The proposal, Senate Bill 337, would make it a misdemeanor to illegally carry a firearm on the Capitol premises and a fourth-degree felony to illegally fire it.

The Capitol premises is defined as the Capitol building itself, the north annex and the corridor that connects the two.

Discharging the weapon would be allowed in self defense or the defense of others.

The legislation comes as the Roundhouse is the focus of a debate over whether to require background checks for people who buy firearms at a gun show or in a private transaction.