March 15, 2023

Gov. signs safe gun storage bill into law

Javier Gallegos/The Santa Fe New Mexican

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hugs Vanessa Sawyer, the grandmother of Bennie Hargrove, after signing House Bill 9 into law Tuesday. The legislation, dubbed the Bennie Hargrove Act after the Albuquerque 13-year-old who was shot and killed in 2021 by another student who took a gun to their middle school, holds gun owners liable if a firearm is stored “in a manner that negligently disregards a minor’s ability to access” the weapon.

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

With three bullets in her body, Alexis Molina said she could think of only two things as she heard the sound of pistol shots all around her in the library.

She prayed — and held her little brother Noah close to her bleeding body as she told him to play dead.

Molina was one of the victims in a 2017 shooting at a Clovis library that left two women dead and Molina and her brother, among others, wounded. 

The teen shooter was believed to have accessed the handguns from his home.

Molina was present Tuesday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 9, a gun safety storage bill intended to keep guns out of the hands of children and teens.

The legislation would create two crimes: negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor who brandishes it or uses it to threaten someone, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail; and negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor resulting in great bodily harm or death, a fourth-degree felony carrying an 18-month prison term.

Supporters have dubbed the bill the “Bennie Hargrove Act,” in honor of the 13-year-old Hargrove, who was shot and killed at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque in August 2021 as he tried to intercede in a bullying incident. 

Authorities say the boy accused of shooting Hargrove brought his father’s gun to school to commit the crime.

“This bill would hold people accountable for their firearms,” Molina said during a news conference held at the Capitol on Tuesday. 

Lujan Grisham was surrounded at the bill signing by lawmakers, survivors of shootings and law enforcement officials. It was the first gun safety bill introduced this session to clear both legislative chambers and reach her desk. 

In a session largely focused on improving public safety, battling crime and reducing gun violence, it was a late-in-the-game victory; the 2022 legislative session ends Saturday.

Other gun safety bills have either stalled — including an assault weapons ban the governor called for in her State of the State address — or await hearings. 

House Bill 100, which would impose a 14-day waiting period before the completion of a firearms sale, is on the agenda before the House of Representatives, but it’s not moving quickly enough for some gun safety advocates. 

A few hours after the governor signed HB 9, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence issued a call to its supporters, asking them to put pressure on House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, to get HB 100 on the floor before the legislative session ends. A similar bill is awaiting a hearing on the Senate floor. 

“It is frustrating to see a gun violence prevention bill that has the legislative votes and support of many New Mexicans stalled on the Senate and House floors,” Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote in a text message Tuesday. 

A spokeswoman said House Democrats will “continue to prioritize passing bills we think will have the most impact on improving safety” in the last few days of the session.

Lujan Grisham said during the news conference she expects HB 100 will get heard and said despite having roughly four days left to the session “there’s still time” to enact more public safety laws.

Though the governor previously had hinted she might call a special session to bring lawmakers back to the table on some violence-prevention initiatives, including the ban on assault weapons, she backed away from the notion on Tuesday. 

“You don’t call a special session as a political point to just belabor a debate that has not been settled,” she said. “Special sessions are for getting things done or because we ran out of time on a specific issue.”

She said she will continue to fight for more public safety initiatives during her term, in part because, “we just have too many guns readily accessible to too many populations.”

Staff reporter Daniel Chacón contributed to this report.