This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
“Lock and load” is a common term among gun enthusiasts.
“Lock and secure” may be one they’ll have to get used to.
The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on Friday endorsed 4-2 a bill that would make failure to secure a firearm in New Mexico a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
Gun and Second Amendment advocates described Senate Bill 224 as an infringement on people’s rights. “I do not believe that this is a proper bill,” said Patrick Brenner of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free-market think tank. “It seeks to mandate how an individual might otherwise store their own private property, and I think it is beyond the role of government to mandate how an individual take care of their own private property.”
A representative for the National Rifle Association and others argued it would be subject to a constitutional challenge, which the sponsor, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said it would survive. “This was very carefully constructed,” said Sedillo Lopez, a retired law professor. “I think it would withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
Supporters of the measure, including several members of the New Mexico chapter of Moms Demand Action, which advocates against gun violence, said the legislation would save lives.
Pamela Weese Powell said her 26-year-old stepson died by suicide using a gun she owned that was in her closet “ignored and unsecured,” which for the rest of her life will haunt her. “I hope that none of you are standing in my shoes next year testifying of losing a loved one to gun violence,” she said.
The bill would make it an offense for the owner of a firearm or authorized user “to store or keep a firearm in any premises unless the firearm is secured in a locked container or secured by a gun lock or other means so as to render the firearm inaccessible or unusable” by anyone else.
A violation would be a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. The fine would be up to $1,000 if “a minor, an at-risk person or a prohibited person” used the firearm to commit a crime or to injure themselves or others.
Sen. Bill Tallman, also an Albuquerque Democrat, questioned how the law would be enforced. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only time it will be enforced is if something bad would happen to someone who got ahold of a gun and we did an investigation and they found out that this gun had not been properly secured,” he said. “Obviously, law enforcement is not going to be able to go into people’s homes to see if they’re properly securing their gun.”
Sedillo Lopez said that was “absolutely right” and that the only way a fine would be issued if is “something horrible happens.”
Though Sedillo Lopez said the bill had been “carefully constructed,” she pulled a provision at the start of Friday’s committee hearing stating an “authorized user” had to be at least 12 years old to be able to learn to shoot. “At first, I thought it was a misinterpretation of the bill saying that it criminalized teaching children to shoot,” she said. “I have an amendment to simply strike that entirely.”
Sedillo Lopez said the intent of the bill is education.
“The more important thing about this bill is that all of the gun safety training courses will include it as a standard in New Mexico,” she said. “When you’re teaching gun safety, one of the responsibilities is to teach what the gun laws are, so secure storage will be included in all of the curriculum within all of the gun training courses around the state. That’s the importance.”
The legislation will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.