The Senate passed a bill creating a mandatory 7-day waiting period for firearm purchases on a 23-to-18 vote Saturday night after a lengthy debate.
HB 129 aims to establish a seven-day waiting period for firearm purchases and to close a loophole in state law that allows firearm sellers to hand over a firearm prior to a background check being completed.
“This bill would join those states in the country, which have a waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and delivery of the firearm. This… would take that waiting period to seven days,” bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said.
Cervantes introduced a floor amendment that updated the bill to say the firearm seller can transfer the firearm to the buying after a a 20-day wait instead of a 30-day wait if a federal instant background check has not been completed in that time.
The Senate adopted the amendment unanimously by voice vote.
Opposition to the bill from senators included questions over the constitutionality, whether the bill is a prohibition rather than an inconvenience and, at one point, if it is aiming to harm rural culture.
Cervantes said that the team that wrote the bill researched current waiting period laws across the country and found that the seven- to 14-day waiting periods have not been successfully struck down by courts.
Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, called the waiting period a week-long prohibition.
Nibert asked Cervantes if the U.S. Supreme Court had issued opinions on any of the current firearm waiting periods to which Cervantes said there were not.
“In my mind that issue is probably one of the issues that we’re going to see some action by the Supreme Court in the next number of years,” Nibert said.
Nibert intimated that a constitutional question lawsuit in the New Mexico Supreme Court would most likely be filed if the bill is signed into law.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed an amendment that would allow the firearm buyer to get their requested firearm before the end of the waiting period if the background check goes through before the waiting period is completed.
Cervantes was against the amendment because it would negate the purpose of the waiting period.
Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, asked if the quick return background check comes back immediately and the buyer is experiencing suicidal ideation, would the amendment affect the waiting period.
Mental distress, whether against oneself or others, was the primary purpose of the bill, as supporters previously discussed.
The amendment failed on a party-line 17-to-24 vote.
Veterans and active military
Sen. Gregory Baca, R-Belen, proposed an amendment that would add an exception for active-duty members of the military or New Mexico Air or Army National Guard members.
“(This amendment)provides an exemption for those who have sacrificed and are currently sacrificing the most in our good country,” Baca said of his amendment.
Cervantes called it an unfriendly amendment since servicemembers also have issues with behavioral health issues that could lead to them harming themselves or others similar to the same issues for civilians.
Many of the amendment’s proponents used rhetoric calling the bill offensive to the military.
Sen. Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque, who is an Air Force veteran, called them out.
“I want to let everybody know, as a veteran, when it all comes down to when we talk about service, it’s not about guns, it’s about sacrifices,” Pope said. “It’s about teamwork. It’s about stepping up to help our community, our nation, our state. That’s what moved us to serve. So let’s not try to spin that.”
Sen. Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who is also an Air Force veteran, offered a rebuttal.
“I do think that it is insulting as a veteran or an active duty member who’s been taught or trained on gun safety, all the things that we always talk about in here that everyone wants everyone to do,” Brandt said. “I don’t think that an active duty member is any more likely to commit suicide since this is supposedly about suicide prevention.”
Prior to the vote, Cervantes addressed the allegations that the bill was anti-military or anti-law enforcement.
At one point, it was called “a slap in the face to veterans.”
Cervantes called the criticism “false arguments.”
The amendment failed on a 19-22 vote.
The bill makes exemptions for a buyer who holds a valid federal firearms license; to a buyer who holds a valid New Mexico concealed handgun license pursuant to the Concealed Handgun Carry Act; to a law enforcement agency; between two law enforcement officers authorized to carry a firearm and certified pursuant to federal law or the Law Enforcement Training Act; or between immediate family members.
Domestic violence exemption amendment
Sen. Crystal Diamond Brantley, R-Elephant Butte, proposed an amendment that would add an exemption for gun buyers who have a domestic violence protection order under the Family Violence Prevention Act.
Cervantes called the amendment unfriendly because he said it could be abused and allow people to get a domestic violence protection order to circumvent the seven-day waiting period.
Brantley and Brandt said they were shocked that Cervantes would respond like that since the process for getting an order of protection could take up to 30 days depending on the specific court’s backlogs.
“After the court process is completed then, and only then, may they go and qualify as an exemption should they feel the need to purchase a firearm for protection,” Brantley said.
The amendment failed on a 17-23 vote.
The bill now goes back to the House for amendment concurrence. If they concur with the amendments, the bill would go to the governor.