By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
It is one of the simplest ways for felons to get their hands on guns — having someone they know buy one legally and then sell or give it to them.
It’s a process known as straw purchasing, and although federal laws prohibit such actions and can put the people who give or sell those guns to felons in jail for up to a decade, there is no state law against such deals in New Mexico.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives attempted to rectify that Friday by voting 62-3 to approve House Bill 306, which, if it becomes law, would make it a fourth-degree felony to knowingly buy a gun for or give one to a felon.
This means someone convicted of buying a gun for a felon could face up to 18 months in jail, said House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
Bills to fight crime have been a theme of this year’s session, as have gun control proposals that have divided Democrats and Republicans. HB 306 is one of the rare gun bills that both parties support — Lane and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put out a joint statement a month ago announcing the bill’s introduction.
The three votes against the bill, which now goes to the Senate, came from Republican Reps. John Block of Alamogordo, Jim Townsend of Artesia and Stefani Lord of Sandia Park. Lord noted that federal law punishes straw buyers with up to 10 years in prison, and said HB 306 goes “softer on crime” than federal law.
“We are not going softer on crime,” Lane replied. “Right now there is nothing on the books in the state of New Mexico” regarding straw purchases. Lane said if lawmakers do not approve the bill “there will be zero prosecution” of straw buyers at the state level.
Lord could not go for it, saying she knows a law enforcement officer who was shot and killed by a gun a felon got from a relative. She told Lane she expected supporters of HB 306 to say, “At least we gave them something,” but added, “I don’t agree with that; I can’t agree with that at all.”
Other Republicans, including Bill Rehm of Albuquerque, who was a law enforcement officer for over two decades, defended of the bill, saying it is needed to make it harder for felons to get guns. Rehm said based on his experience and research, the two main ways felons get guns is by stealing them and by buying or receiving them from others, including people they know.
The bill’s fiscal impact report notes a survey of incarcerated gun offenders in jails in Los Angeles County that found “over 66% of those firearms were purchased illegally, with 51% of those purchases from friends, acquaintances, or friends of friends.”
Meanwhile, The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website says data from a national survey of firearm licensees “suggests that there are more than 30,000 attempted straw purchases each year.”
Before casting her vote against the initiative, Lord suggested New Mexico leaders do more to “light a fire” under federal law enforcement agencies to find out why they are not prosecuting straw purchases to the extent they should be.