A House committee tabled legislation that would have closed the “gunshow loophole” on Saturday afternoon.
The vote came on a party-line vote with four Republicans voting to table the legislation and three Democrats voting against tabling. This means unless one of the Republicans has a change of heart, which is very unlikely, the bill is dead for the year.
The bill, HB 44, was sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque. In his presentation of the bill, Garcia said the bill was “merely” to close the gunshow loophole. The bill also had portions to address those with mental illness who wished to purchase guns.
Garcia repeatedly described it as a “consensus” and bipartisan bill, noting that eight Republicans voted for the legislation when it passed the House in 2013. All four of the Republicans on the committee were among the Republicans who voted against the bill.
“The compromise bill closes one of our firearm private sales loopholes,” Garcia said. “It provides for background checks at gun shows only.”
“I’m not an alarmist,” Garcia said. “And I don’t go off the national data. This bill is exclusive New Mexican.” Garcia said it came six months before the Sandy Hook massacre.
After the bill was tabled, Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, told New Mexico Political Report that he respected Garcia and his motivations for sponsoring the bill, but he still could not support it.
“I think it would open the door for coming back later and either a new bill or an amendment to this to require that individuals that sell guns to each other would have to do a background check and register it,” Wooley said.
He also said that his constituents told him they did not support it.
“I think it depends on what part of the state you live in whether or not the people support the bill,” Wooley said.
As has been the norm in the House in committee hearings so far this year, Republicans did little of the debating during the committee hearing.
Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, said that her constituents told her to oppose the legislation. She said the county had enough gun laws.
“We need to go back and we need to make sure that laws are being enforced,” Espinoza said.
She noted that based on numbers she had on those who failed background checks, only less than one percent were prosecuted.
“It’s not being selective enforcement, it’s being equal enforcement because it’s closing those loopholes,” Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said.
Garcia’s expert witness was Dr. James Webster.
“It protects the legal, legitimate gun dealers from what is really an unfair opportunity for the people who do not have the federal license to sell a gun,” Webster said of the bill. “It is protective of small business, if you will.”
The testimony lasted over an hour and a half and was impassioned at times.
One who supported the bill says she was a grandmother of a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. She said that legislators needed to do everything they could to keep children safe.
Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, is not a member of the panel, but she did sit in the audience to testify in opposition. Ezzell called for people to not use emotion in arguing on the bill, then invoked the terrorism attacks of September 11, 2001.
She said the terrorists did not get weapons from a gun show.
For the most part, the public testimony was respectful, though chair Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, had to remind one supporter of the bill to not criticize lawmakers on the panel.
Garcia told New Mexico Political Report that he thought the opposition was more respectful this time around.
“I think in this presentation the crowd was pretty well-behaved on the opposition side,” he said, calling the 2013 crowd “rowdy” and also noting that “attendance has awfully dwindled” since the first hearings in 2013.
He said this wasn’t the end for his bill, even if it is likely done for the year.
“We’re going to be back and keep plugging away,” he said.