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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Bill Allowing Concealed Guns Passes Senate

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE The Senate on Friday approved a bill to allow New Mexicans to carry concealed handguns after the rejection of three amendments intended to place additional safeguards in the measure.
    The Senate approved the bill (SB 23) on a 32-9 vote. The bill, which would take effect on July 1, now goes to the House for consideration.
    Supporters of the legislation argue that residents should be able to carry concealed handguns to protect themselves from criminals.
    "People want this to happen. In my area, people need this to happen," said Sen. Shannon Robinson, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored the bill.
    The bill would allow New Mexicans who are at least 21 years old to obtain licenses to carry loaded, concealed handguns if they complete a firearms training course and pass a criminal background check. Those seeking a license would have to pay an application fee of no more than $100.
    Legislators and then-Gov. Gary Johnson enacted into law a similar measure in 2001. But the state Supreme Court last year struck it down as unconstitutional because it included a provision allowing local governments to opt out of the law and ban the carrying of concealed handguns.
    This year's bill does not include the opt-out provision.
    Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, said the governor would support concealed carry legislation as long as it contains "appropriate training, sufficient safeguards and licensing standards."
    Senators on Friday rejected three proposed amendments to the bill. Sen. Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat who sponsored the amendments, said the proposed changes were intended to protect New Mexicans.
    The unsuccessful amendments included proposals to give the state Department of Public Safety an additional 60 days to review concealed-carry applications and increase criminal penalties for drunken driving with a concealed handgun in a vehicle.
    Sanchez also called for a more extensive "refresher" firearms training course for those renewing their concealed-carry licenses. And he wanted to require applicants to renew their licenses every year, rather than every four years.
    Sanchez said the state Department of Public Safety would be more likely to discover criminal convictions of applicants if they were required to renew their licenses every year.
    "This is for the safety of the people of the state of New Mexico," Sanchez said.
    Under current law, New Mexicans may carry loaded guns in most instances if they are in plain view, but Robinson said that's not practical.
    "I don't think I'm going to get very far walking down Central Avenue wearing a .45 on my hip and carrying a loaded gun," Robinson said. "Chances are, I might get shot."