March 19, 2023

Governor on crime legislation: `I’m going to keep trying’

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham official photo.

By Daniel J. Chacón and Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham started her post-session news conference Saturday, she already knew the score.

Of the roughly 40 public safety bills introduced this year, the governor said she championed 10.

“We have about a handful up, and out of 40, it’s 10 [that passed], and not all of those would really constitute what I think are strong public safety measures,” she said.

“I know that is an area that you want me to say I’m disappointed,” Lujan Grisham added. “I’m motivated. I am very motivated to find additional ways to make sure that we really do everything in our power that makes our communities and cities in our state safe.”

The Legislature passed a gun storage law named after a 13-year-old Albuquerque boy authorities say was shot and killed by another youngster who took his father’s gun to an Albuquerque middle school. Lawmakers also passed a bill that to crack down on organized retail crime and made it a fourth-degree felony to buy a gun for another person who is prohibited from owning a firearm.

But some of the governor’s biggest priorities went nowhere, including:

• A ban on assault weapons.

• A bill to raise the age to 21 to buy or possess semi-automatic firearms, including assault weapons.

• A 14-day waiting period to buy guns.

Other gun-related legislation — prohibiting firearms within 100 feet of polling places and updating the Unfair Trade Practices Act to lift restrictions on the filing of lawsuits against manufacturers or distributors — passed the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in the House, where they were likely to meet stiff opposition.

The governor also pushed for establishing a “rebuttable presumption” to keep repeat violent offenders awaiting trial off the streets instead of letting them be released pretrial. The bill was tabled in committee amid concerns it was unconstitutional.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said she was “extremely disappointed” the bill to impose a 14-day waiting period on gun sales didn’t get a hearing in either chamber. Of all the violence prevention bills proposed this year, that was the bill that would’ve made the biggest difference, she added.

“The studies we looked at say it’s a game-changer in terms of suicide and crimes of passion,” she said.

But Viscoli said she was grateful the Legislature passed House Bill 9, intended to keep guns out of the hands of children and teens. The governor signed it into law Tuesday.

“We’ve been working on getting that passed since 2017,” she said.

Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the legislation known as the Bennie Hargrove Act, called some of the other gun bills considered by the Legislature controversial, noting some are “going to take some time.”

Lujan Grisham, who was hammered over a crime wave plaguing New Mexico as she campaigned for a second term last year, vowed to keep “pushing the Legislature” to enact more measures, including funding to put an additional 1,000 police officers on the ground.

“The Legislature should expect me to look at that again because I know we need 1,000 officers,” she said.

Asked about her strategy to get her public safety priorities across the finish line, Lujan Grisham said she has to think about “creative solutions.”

“I’m going to keep trying,” she said.

“Just look at the stats. We’ve released some folks that should never have been released and have already reoffended in Albuquerque while we’ve all been in the legislative session,” she said, referring to efforts to pass a pretrial detention bill. “I find that to be intolerable. There are states who do it better, and I don’t know why we don’t just do exactly what those states are doing. I don’t need to recreate the wheel.”

The governor said she would continue to battle for modified pretrial detention, noting “everyone here knows I’m introducing that again. And again and again, and I might just try to change the Constitution so I can run again.”

Lujan Grisham said she was kidding, but added she would continue to battle on crime legislation. And she made no apologies for her battle again guns, brushing off criticism that she’s infringing on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights are unfounded.

“I have not talked to a single policymaker, not one legislator, who’s interested in preventing responsible gun owners from accessing firearms,” she said.

“What we’re trying to address is that we have a gun violence issue and that guns … get into the hands of people who should not have them,” she said. “That … takes a scalpel, like figuring out where we got a problem and taking care of that particular problem.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.