March 4, 2017

Senate OKs ban on openly carrying firearms in Capitol

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Photo Credit: Abi Skipp cc

The New Mexico Senate on Saturday approved a bill that would make it illegal for anyone but police officers and people with concealed-carry licenses to have a gun in the state Capitol.

Senate Bill 337, sponsored by Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, passed on a bipartisan vote of 29-12.

Seven Senate Republicans joined 22 Democrats in supporting the bill. And three Democrats voted with nine Republicans in opposing it. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

It would make it a misdemeanor for non-police to openly carry a gun in the Roundhouse. And it would be a fourth-degree felony to discharge a gun in the Capitol unless done in self-defense or defense of another.

The bill was prompted by instances of people carrying rifles to hearings in the Legislature. Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told fellow senators that some of his constituents have told him they won’t come to a legislative session to speak on bills because of a climate of fear.

“It’s very intimidating with guns being openly carried,” Wirth said.

Sharer, who normally votes against any type of gun control legislation, said, “It’s not fear of firearms that’s driving me. It’s so we can have reasonable debate in the Capitol.”

Before the Senate convened Saturday, Sharer told The New Mexican, “When someone’s in the back of the [committee] room waving a gun around, I want to say, ‘You’re not helping, jackass.’ “

During the two-hour debate on the bill, opponents called the measure an unnecessary restriction on gun rights.

Referring to Wirth’s statement about constituents being intimidated by people carrying guns, Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, said it would be intimidating to gun enthusiasts to tell them they can’t bring guns into the Roundhouse.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said Wirth was concerned with First Amendment rights. “So for that, we’re trampling Second Amendment rights,” Brandt said.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, took that line of reasoning a step further by introducing a proposed amendment that would have required background checks for anyone speaking in the Capitol Rotunda.

Sharer responded, “I know this is to make a point. But we don’t let people scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. … Don’t scream fire with your firearm.”

Pirtle later admitted that he disagreed with “most of” what was in his own amendment and withdrew it.

His was just one of several amendments that opponents proposed during the debate.

An amendment by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, would have called for posting signs around the Capitol saying it is illegal to carry guns in the building — without actually making it illegal to have guns there.

Ivey-Soto said that amendment would be posting a notice “that is a lie to the public.”

This angered Muñoz, who shot back, saying, “This bill’s actually a true lie to the public. We’re not protecting the public. … Some day, some place, something’s going to happen. I hope it doesn’t, but this world is crazy.”

He withdrew that amendment but later offered another that would have required metal detectors at Capitol entrances.

Sharer said, “If someone wants to shoot any of us, they’re going to do it. … This bill is not about creating a Fortress Santa Fe.”

Muñoz argued there are lax safety measures in the Capitol. Sharer declined to discuss specifics but pointed out that state police protect the Capitol. “I think it’s a pretty safe building,” he said.

Muñoz’s call for metal detectors failed.

Earlier Saturday, the Senate voted 25-15 to approve another gun control measure sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes’ proposal, Senate Bill 259, would require someone who is the subject of a restraining order to relinquish any guns he or she owns. It also prohibits that person from buying or obtaining any other guns as long as the order is in effect.

In addition, people under such an order would have to deliver their firearms to a third party that is not prohibited from possessing a firearm by state or federal law. That could be a licensed firearms dealer, a law enforcement agency or to anyone legally allowed to possess a firearm except for a household member or close relative.

“A cooling-off period, where a judge can assure there is not a gun in the mix, will undoubtedly help save lives,” Cervantes said.

The bill passed on a near party-line vote, with Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque voting with 24 Democrats. Muñoz, who had argued against the bill, left the chamber without voting.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, praised the Senate’s action.

“Restricting firearm access to domestic abusers will help keep our families safer from gun violence and domestic abuse. There is an incontrovertible and overwhelming reason why we should pass this bill. … It saves lives.”

Cervantes’ bill also advances to the House of Representatives.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

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