Failed Legislation Highlights High Rate of New Mexico Gun Violence

Photo by Maya Holt / NM News Port
Magazines like “Concealed Carry” inform citizens about gun laws. HB 50 proposes to extend background checks to internet sales and unlicensed gun show dealers. Photo by Maya Holt / NM News Port

Gun safety advocates lost a battle in the NM state legislature this year. Despite growing gun violence in the state, lawmakers rejected a measure expanding background checks on most private gun sales.

The Democrat-sponsored House Bill 50 would have extended background checks to gun sales arranged over the internet or on the sidelines of guns shows without a licensed dealer.

The national group Everytown for Gun Safety plus local gun safety advocates supported the bill but gun owners, the firearms industry and the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association (NMSA) opposed the bill.

Miranda Viscoli, with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence (NMPGV), became actively involved in gun control after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012.

Gun control activists say keeping guns out of the wrong hands is an important tactic in reducing gun violence. Viscoli said the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights groups are against efforts, like HB 50.  Opponents of the bill say it is overreaching and unenforceable.

“The NRA were chipping away at our gun laws and there was no one to stop it,” Viscoli said. “I realized we had to do something.”

Since the creation of NMPGV, Viscoli says not a single bill endorsed by the NRA has passed.

One gun-related law did make it through the New Mexico legislature this year. Senate Bill 259 promotes the removal of guns from people who are on protective order by a judge. The bill largely pertains to domestic violence situations where removal of a gun is deemed a safety precaution. (As of late March, SB 259 passed both houses and is now pending governor approval.)

Viscoli said NMPGV worked for two years getting SB 259 through.

“We spent so many hours looking at paperwork and waiting, but it finally paid off.” Viscoli said.

When Viscoli started researching, she said the alarmingly high levels of violence in New Mexico appalled her.

The majority of gun related crimes are cases in which guns fall into the wrong hands. According to the city of Albuquerque’s most recent crime report, over $600,000 in firearms were stolen in the Albuquerque area.

According to concealed carry laws, New Mexico is a “shall issue” state for the right to carry concealed handguns. Along with being at least 21 years of age, an applicant for a concealed carry permit must provide proper documentation detailing residency within the state. Photo by Maya Holt / NM News Port

Jesse Becton, an ex-Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Tactical SWAT team member, says that in his experience, a majority of violent crime arrests were done with stolen guns. Becton says firearm theft plays a big role in the gun activity in New Mexico.

The U.S. government’s laws are incredibly lax, Becton said.

“So now we have a gun, registered under someone else’s name, being passed on from criminal to criminal,” said Becton, adding that New Mexico’s legal oversight is very ‘lax’ compared to other states.

Becton also points to the faulty system of punishment enforced by government in accordance with convicted criminals.

“I have caught and put away criminals that have sometimes have seven or 12 previous convictions and they get away with three years in jail and then they’re out,” Becton said. “We often have many convicted criminals come from other states to commit crimes in New Mexico because they know the way the system works here, and I think it is that reason we need harsher crimes for convicted and previously convicted criminals.”

Becton says stopping guns from falling into the wrong hands also begins with local gun shops. Overall, he says,they do a good job of knowing who to sell to and who not to sell to, and providing background checks..

ABQ Guns owner Belinda Gallegos says when it comes to selling guns the only thing that stops her is instinct.

“There have been times where I wouldn’t sell a gun to someone because I didn’t feel right about the transaction, something wasn’t matching up properly and so I’ve told some customers I can’t sell to you,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos said she believes gun violence in New Mexico is mostly in the hands of the criminals who steal guns. Otherwise, she says educating gun owners can go a long way in deterring problems.

“We need to make sure that people are educated about the second amendment,” Gallegos said. “If more people are aware of the right they have they gain a sense of responsibility.”

Under the current NM Law, gun shop owners/sellers do not require customers to receive any sort of training before purchasing a gun. However, Gallegos says she encourages new customers to take training classes.

Follow Maya and Brittany on Twitter