By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
One of the biggest battles of this year’s legislative session — the fight over gun control — took center stage Tuesday at the Capitol.
Perhaps predictably, it drew a passionate audience, one likely to grow as a pair of measures continue to move through the Legislature’s committee process.
Supporters and opponents of two gun bills — one imposing a 14-day waiting period on a firearms purchase and another banning the possession, use and transfer of automatic weapons — showed up in force to testify before the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee.
The back-and-forth debate was familiar to anyone who has watched previous legislative sessions involving gun control laws and efforts to stem gun violence.
But it was the one-minute comments from both sides that provided a little more insight into the why and why-not of the issue.
Regarding the assault weapons and ammunition ban, Kristina Harrigan who said she was in her mid-70s, said she doesn’t want to rely on a small .22-caliber revolver if she hears someone trying to break into her house.
“I want to have a nice, big rifle that has been expanded for my tiny, little, short dinosaur arms so I can shoot them bad guys,” she said.
A woman who volunteers for Moms Demand Action pointed out: “You can fire a heck of a lot more bullets per second with a high-capacity rifle than you can with a less capacity gun.”
Nick Sanchez, a rancher from Northern New Mexico, said gun control measures are a “declaration of war against law-abiding, God-fearing” citizens that will not go down well with law-abiding gun owners.
Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said something — anything — has to be done to start quelling the rise in gun crimes.
“We bury the victims,” said Sánchez. “I want to repeat that. We bury them. These are real people … we have to start somewhere and I know we can’t all agree on the same thing, but this effort is a great start.”
In the end, members of the committee voted 4-2, along party lines, to approve the two bills and send them on to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 4-2.
House Bill 100 requires a 14-day waiting period before a firearm sale can be complete. Any person or business violating the law would be charged with a misdemeanor offense.
House Bill 101 creates a fourth-degree felony charge for owning, making, selling or transferring both assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. A substitute bill introduced during Tuesday’s hearing allows people who currently own assault weapons to keep them if they agree to register them though the proposal didn’t go over too well with gun owners present for the discussion.
Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, presented both bills to the committee. A co-sponsor on both pieces of legislation, she said they are necessary to keep guns out of the hands of those who might use them to harm others.
Citing a number of well-publicized mass shootings at schools, Romero said HB 101 “is a bill to prevent mass shootings. This is a bill that we hope to bring better safety to our state.”
Gun control measures are likely to remain at the forefront as the 60-day legislative heads toward the halfway mark. More bills tackling gun violence are likely to be debated in both the House and Senate.
On Monday, members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted to pass Senate Bill 171, which would make it a fourth-degree felony to manufacture, sell, barter, trade, gift, transfer or acquire automatic firearms and other weapons. Some committee members said the bill may face constitutional challenges going forward.
Meanwhile, Republican efforts to move forward a bill allowing New Mexicans 18 and older to carry guns both in the open and under a jacket on in a purse failed to get past the four Democrats on the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee.
House Bill 164, sponsored by Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, and several other House Republicans, would do away with current carry laws, such as requiring a valid Department of Public Safety-issued conceal-carry permit and taking a mandatory class in gun safety.
One man who testified in favor of HB 164 told lawmakers when everyone is carrying a gun civility is maintained — because everyone knows everyone else has a gun.
“When I’m carrying, there is nowhere safer for my family than right next to me, because I will take care of them,” he said.
One woman opposing the bill didn’t buy the argument. “If you have to have a permit to drive, you have to have a permit to carry a gun,” she said.