Experts weigh in on legislation needed to reduce gun violence

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she may call a special legislative session to discuss legislation intended to mitigate gun violence. Most of Lujan Grisham’s public safety legislative agenda failed to make it through the Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session. Two of the bills that passed were a seven day waiting period for firearm […]

Experts weigh in on legislation needed to reduce gun violence

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she may call a special legislative session to discuss legislation intended to mitigate gun violence.

Most of Lujan Grisham’s public safety legislative agenda failed to make it through the Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session.

Two of the bills that passed were a seven day waiting period for firearm purchases and updating the ban on firearms near polling places.

Lujan Grisham said that her primary objective for the special session would be determining mental competency and potentially court-ordered therapy for those the court deemed were in need of such assistance.

Criminal Competency and penalties

HB 233 would have updated criminal competency to stand trial.

“I think that bill really suffered from having the kernel of a good idea and just needed a little more time for stakeholders to work through it and be able to pin down some of the mechanics of exactly what happens at what stage and it was just, it was a challenge in our short session to get those conversations to occur,” New Mexico Health Secretary Patrick Allen told the NM Political Report. “But I think providing more options for law enforcement and courts to be able to get people into treatment, versus getting them into our correctional setting or hospital emergency department— neither of which is well suited— than actually addressing their problem is an idea that we absolutely need to continue to pursue.”

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen told the NM Political Report that competency is important as is protecting people’s civil rights.

Related: Governor, legislative leadership reflect on session

“But making sure with competency also is if you have a mental health issue, or you’ve had one in the past and you’ve had suicidal or homicidal ideation you should not be allowed to get a firearm,” Allen said.

Allen also said that New Mexico’s laws should mirror federal law, including tougher penalties for violent crime offenders, especially those who commit homicide.

“There needs to be tougher penalties for that because that’s not somebody that we’re really going to be able to rehab,” Allen said. “Everyone’s going way too soft… they want us to fix the crime and then they want to rehab everybody. It’s not going to work.”

Allen supports legislation that would add enhancements for firearm-involved felonies and that some people should be jailed as a means of protecting their communities and themselves.

“We can’t be afraid to say we can put people in jail,” Allen said.

Allen said that the legislature should not rush into developing court-mandated treatments.

“Because now we’re talking about people’s civil rights, forcing them… into either jail or for treatment. We need every stakeholder and every person at the table we can to get different opinions to make sure we have that policy correct,” Allen said.

Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, a criminal prosecutor, thought a different approach could help the issue.

“I’ve dealt with a competency code a ton and the mental health code a ton, and it’s just a very poorly written statute,” Reeb told the NM Political Report. “It’s just got some gaps in it and we need to deal with mental illness better, but we’ve got to also remember we’re dealing with dangerous criminals sometimes. So we’ve got to balance that properly.” 

Reeb co-sponsored a bill that would have funded an academic review of New Mexico’s behavioral health statutes.

The bill stalled in committee near the end of the session.

Allen said that the seven-day waiting period bill, if signed, would be enforced at the federal level since that is how gun crimes are generally enforced. 

Opinions on passed legislation

Reeb said she believed the two laws passed during the legislative session would have minimal effect on crime.

“It seems like what the legislature did was put restrictions on the law-abiding citizens, which, in general, are not the ones who, when they possess guns, are not the ones who commit the crimes,” Reeb said. “So criminals generally commit crimes, and they don’t follow the laws. So I felt the two gun bills that went through are probably not going to affect crime at all, in my opinion.”

Legislatively, Reeb said the tough-on-crime bills would have done more to slow violent crime in New Mexico, specifically ones that would increase penalties for crimes committed with firearms.

“I just feel that the (district attorneys), the judges need to be tougher on the penalties and tougher on criminals who are using firearms,” Reeb said. “We need to fund law enforcement better so that we can have more law enforcement officers on the streets so we have more proactivity than just, you know, responsiveness to crimes.”

Reeb also said that the legislature needs to address behavioral health than it currently does.

 “I think that always goes a lot towards all types of crimes… including the ones that involve guns,” she said.

Another view on one of the pieces of gun-related legislation, SB 5, which updates the law concerning firearms at or near polling places came from Common Cause New Mexico Policy Director Mason Graham.

“The rise of intimidation and violence towards voters, election workers and even candidates following the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection has signaled a call for immediate action to increase safety and protection for those visiting and working at our polling places,” Graham told the NM Political Report via email Monday. “All who participate on election day deserve the peace of mind and security that their right to vote is protected, regardless of where they choose to cast a ballot.” 

Regina Griego of the New Mexico Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense told the NM Political Report Tuesday that she was glad for the passage of the two gun-related bills that are on the governor’s desk.

“I’m glad we got two very important bills past the finish line,” Griego said. “It usually takes a few years to get some of this through and we’re happy we got two of them, the waiting day period was what’s important to close the loophole and also the (banning firearms at) polling places.”

Related: Bill to amend red flag law law heads to House floor

Miranda Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence echoed Griego’s comments.

“We are really, really happy that we passed a waiting period bill in New Mexico and especially during a budget session, that this has been a priority for New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence for the past couple of years,” Viscoli said “In terms of suicide prevention, and crimes of passion that truly is a game changer. It also helps law enforcement get those names into NCIC so that they have more time because that does get backed up.”

NCIC, or the National Crime Information Center, is the United States’ central database for tracking crime-related data.

Viscoli would have liked the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order update bill to have passed as it would have helped to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“We will continue to fight for that. That is a very good tool for law enforcement to make sure that guns don’t get into unsafe hands,” Viscoli said.

The ERFPO law currently gives people 48 hours to turn over their firearms once an ERFPO is issued.

“You have somebody who is mentally unstable, or they’re being told to get rid of their gun, that they have 48 hours, what could possibly go wrong, right,” Viscoli said. 

Next steps

The Governor’s Public Safety Advisor Ben Baker told the NM Political Report that the legislature should continue its work to pass what he calls “meaningful legislation” including many bills that either stalled in committee or ran out of time to be debated and passed on the House or Senate floors.

Those bills were a large-scale approach toward increasing public safety and reducing violent crime.

“It’s not just enhancing criminal punishments. It’s not just regulating different types of firearms. It’s the holistic piece,” Baker said. “What could happen is the  state of New Mexico [could have] an office of gun violence prevention specifically designed to understand this problem and recommend solutions.”

“It would help us with the data collection, it would help us with programming. And again, it would be looking at upstream root causes, right? So we can get on the prevention side,” Viscoli said.

A bill that would have codified a state Office of Gun Violence Prevention died in committee in the 2024 legislative session.

Related: Bill to establish Office of Gun Violence Prevention passes first committee.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence also wants to codify the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

Since the Office of Gun Violence Prevention is not codified, another governor could defund it which would make the office obsolete.

Griego would like to see the legislature discuss legislation to stop gun trafficking.

“There’s far too much trafficking in New Mexico, firearms and that can be from, you know, people that are bad actors in terms of selling them through private sale,” Griego said.

Griego said that her organization did not want to limit responsible gun ownership as she has family who own guns and are hunters.

“I think that other than limiting access… we don’t want to harm or in any way limit responsible gun ownership, that’s important,” Griego said. “And we’re not against guns by any means…. We just need to limit access to people that will hurt themselves or hurt others and that’s all we want to do.”

The state has several initiatives to help combat gun violence including the New Mexico Department of Health giving away free gun locks to anyone who wants one. 

NMDOH has given out 30,000 gun locks since July 1, 2023.

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety has held firearm buyback events across the state including events in November in Albuquerque, Española and Las Cruces where 439 guns were recovered.

The most recent firearm buyback events on Jan. 6 in Albuquerque, Española, Las Cruces and Farmington recovered 1,289 firearms.

Across both buyback events, 1,728 firearms were recovered including 12 stolen firearms.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez was contacted for comment on this story but was unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts.

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