Bid to raise gun buying age heads to House floor

Photo by Maya Holt / NM News Port

By Jack Boggs

A bill that would raise the age required to buy some kinds of guns is awaiting a vote on the House floor.

The proposal, House Bill 127, would make it illegal for those under 21 to buy or possess automatic or semiautomatic firearms and large-capacity magazines, with exemptions for military, police, hunters and firearm safety trainers.

Cosponsored by five Democratic women in the House, it is one part of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public safety agenda. But it has faced opposition from Republicans and some Democrats.

Firearm injuries have risen significantly among young people in New Mexico, increasing by 32 percent among boys aged 14–17, according to the state Department of Health.

And other evidence shows that those who commit mass shootings are increasingly young—since 2020 they have averaged 22 years old, according to researchers with the Violence Project.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said that’s partly why he supports the bill. “From the data I have heard about mass shootings, a large portion of these shooters fall into the 18-20 age group,” he said. 

Senate Minority Leader Craig Brandt agrees: “A lot of the crimes that are being committed right now are by minors.”

But, he countered, “If you look at the people who are committing the crimes, none of them legally could have had a gun under our current gun laws.”

Brandt said his approach is to focus on updating New Mexico’s racketeering laws so law enforcement can go after the source of illegal gun dealings.

The issue is divisive in New Mexico and nationwide. According to the Pew Research Center, 79 % of Republicans say that gun ownership increases safety, while 78 % of Democrats disagree.

But 22 states have adopted similar policies to raise the age to buy certain firearms, according to Everytown Research.

Marshall Martinez said although he comes from a family of gun owners and was taught at a young age how to use them and use them safely, he supports the bill.

The bill represents a good balance between individual rights and public safety, Martinez said in an interview at the state Capitol. He is executive director at Equality New Mexico, one of several organizations urging lawmakers to support public safety measures.

“New Mexico is a western state and a vast majority of our communities are rural,” Martinez said, “these exemptions are necessary for the cultural values of New Mexico while also protecting young people.”

Brandt said he worried the bill would face constitutional challenges, an idea that was echoed in a nonpartisan analysis by legislative staff. And he said the exceptions weren’t realistic.

“How do you prove that you are a hunter?” he asked. “Every 18-year-old is just going to go out and buy a hunting license whether they hunt or not.”

If it is approved by the House, the bill will still need to work its way through committees and the Senate floor before heading to the governor’s desk. The legislative session ends at noon on Feb. 15.

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