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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Concealed Gun Law Passes Committee

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE When Sarah Rockhold was approached by four teenagers in the parking lot of an Albuquerque mall while Christmas shopping a few years ago, it made her nervous.
    She jumped into her car, locked the doors, and pulled out the little revolver she kept in the vehicle.
    Without pointing it at them, she made sure they could see it.
    "The sight of an armed grandma caused them to leave the area in a hurry," the Belen retiree told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
    Rockhold was among those testifying in favor of legislation to allow New Mexicans 21 and over to carry loaded, concealed handguns if they got training, passed a background check, and were licensed.
    A similar measure was enacted into law two years ago. But the state Supreme Court struck it down last year as unconstitutional, because it contained a provision that allowed cities and counties to opt out and ban concealed carry.
    This year's bill minus the opt-out provision was approved 6-4 by the Judiciary Committee. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, goes now to the Finance Committee.
    It's legal in New Mexico to carry loaded guns if they're in plain view with some exceptions and to carry concealed guns if they're unloaded. Carrying loaded guns in vehicles, as Rockhold did, also is legal.
    Supporters of the National Rifle Association-backed legislation said law-abiding citizens should be able to carry loaded weapons to protect themselves against robbers, muggers, kidnappers and other criminals.
    Debbie Hughes of Carlsbad, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, told the committee she travels extensively, often at night.
    "There have been several situations where I felt I would have been safer to be able to have a gun on my person," she said.
    Assailants might not view women as such easy targets if they thought they might be armed, she said.
    And supporters said a concealed-carry law would not encourage gun ownership.
    "Anybody can go out and buy guns right now," said Sen. William H. Payne, R-Albuquerque. It's the "solid citizens" in his district who want to be able to carry concealed loaded guns without breaking the law, he said.
    Opponents of the legislation said it wouldn't reduce crime and could lead to more gun deaths.
    "When you have more guns that are loaded and more readily available in situations where tempers flare, there are more likely to be homicides," testified Bill Jordan of New Mexico Voices for Children.
    "We're going to have more guns more accessible to more kids for suicides, for unintended homicides, and for accidental shootings," he said.
    The legislation provides for four-year licenses issued by the Department of Public Safety, rather than the one-year licenses in the previous law. Licenses would be denied to convicted felons, those convicted of misdemeanors involving violence or drugs, and those with drunken driving convictions within the previous five years.