Thursday, March 11, 2010
Concealed Guns OK'd in Beer, Wine Eateries
By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE — You can pack your gun, but don't touch the booze.
Concealed carry licensees will be able to take their handguns into New Mexico restaurants that serve beer and wine starting July 1, after Gov. Bill Richardson signed a controversial measure into law Wednesday.
Richardson signed Senate Bill 40 on the final day to act on legislation from the 30-day session that ended Feb. 18 and subsequently ordered state law enforcement authorities to crack down on consumption of alcohol while carrying a concealed weapon.
However, opponents of the bill said they remain concerned about safety and liability issues posed by allowing concealed handguns into dining establishments in the first place.
"We still don't believe it's good policy to have guns and liquor in the same vicinity," said Carol Wight, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.
It will remain illegal under the new law — which was backed by the National Rifle Association — to take guns into bars or restaurants with full liquor licenses. In addition, restaurants that are covered by the law will still be able to opt out by posting signs that declare firearms are prohibited.
The NRA said Wednesday that the signing of the bill makes New Mexico the 41st state to enact such legislation.
"This is a victory for self-defense rights and for law-abiding residents of New Mexico," said NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox.
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, the bill's sponsor, and other supporters of the measure said guns are routinely stolen from parked cars — including police cars — and argued it's better to allow licensed carriers to take them into restaurants.
Richardson, who took the full 20 days allowable to him under state law before acting on the bill, ultimately agreed after what he described as "much contemplation and thought."
"As the governor of a Western state, I know well the deep feelings that come with such a measure, but I also understand those feelings and beliefs must be tempered by the enactment of certain safeguards," the two-term Democratic governor said in a statement.
To accomplish that, Richardson ordered the Department of Public Safety to revise its regulations to make it clear that it's illegal to drink alcohol while packing a concealed weapon. However, the order doesn't carry the weight of law.
State law currently prohibits carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence of alcohol but is unclear on whether that means it's illegal to consume alcohol while carrying a concealed weapon.
The Senate voted 27-15 in favor of the bill during the 30-day session. The measure then passed the House 54-12 on the session's final day, even though House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, voted against it.
While Wight said she's glad restaurants will have the ability to opt out of the law, she said she fears the bill could be a steppingstone for more far-reaching legislation.
"Next year they'll probably go for restaurants with full liquor licenses," she said.
However, Muñoz said Wednesday that he doesn't plan to lead such a charge.
According to the Department of Public Safety, more than 17,000 New Mexicans have been issued concealed carry licenses since 2004.
In addition to the guns and restaurants bill, Richardson also signed into law Wednesday the Hispanic Education Act, a measure that creates a Hispanic education liaison position inside the Public Education Department.
The act, which both Richardson and Education Secretary Veronica Garcia called historic, also creates a formal Hispanic Advisory Council and requires the PED to provide an annual report card on Hispanic education in New Mexico.
Journal staff writer Martin Salazar contributed to this report.