January 27, 2020

Senate prohibits firearms for big hearing on guns, cannabis

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Open carry rally in Richmond, VA in 2010. Flickr cc

The state Senate’s Democratic leadership has banned firearms from a much-anticipated hearing set to take place Tuesday on a controversial gun bill, citing safety concerns. 

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said on the chamber floor Monday that the public will not be able to carry guns while attending a Senate Public Affairs Committee hearing on legislation that would allow so-called extreme risk protection orders.

“We want to make sure we don’t have any incidents,” Papen, D-Las Cruces, said in an interview. “Nationally, we have so much anger on this issue. We’re just trying to forestall any problems.” 

The legislation, filed as Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 7, is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. The New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association has voiced strong disapproval of the proposal, which would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to remove guns from people considered dangerous.

Both proponents and opponents are expected to turn out in large numbers for the bill’s first committee hearing.

“I would imagine people on both sides will be there in force,” Papen said.

New Mexico law allows members of the public to openly carry firearms in the Legislature. In 2017, the House rejected a bill that would have restricted the practice to concealed-carry only.

In a rarity for a first committee meeting, the hearing will be held on the Senate floor instead of in a smaller room because of the sizeable crowd expected to attend. Another high-profile bill proposing the legalization of recreational cannabis will also be taken up in the same hearing.

The public will sit in the gallery, with opponents of the bill separated from proponents, and will not be permitted on the floor of the chamber. 

The Legislative Council Service will be coordinating security for the hearing with the state police, the Senate’s sergeant at arms and the private security firm Vet-Sec. The private firm will be checking members of the public who wish to enter the gallery with metal detection devices known as wands.

Long guns will not be allowed into the Capitol, according to a notice posted by Capitol security on the Legislature’s website.

Some Republican legislators were not happy with the decision. 

“Unfortunately, it has been determined New Mexican gun owners lack enough decorum to be trusted to sit in a Senate committee hearing,” House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said.  

Sen. Bill Sharer, a Republican from Farmington who co-sponsored the 2017 bill to prohibit openly carrying guns in the Roundhouse, said he understood Papen’s decision but said he still wished it wouldn’t be implemented. He noted that some pro-gun advocates had been irresponsible at the Roundhouse in the past.

“I understand the concern,” he said. “I just wish we didn’t have to go there.”