Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Community activists and state lawmakers, including State Representative Pamelya Herndon (D-Albuquerque) and State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque), gathered outside Washington Middle School on Monday in support of the “Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act.” In August, Hargrove was shot and killed at Washington Middle School by a fellow student. Hargrove attempted to break up a fight between two of his friends before being shot six times in the altercation. Many believe that the shooting could have been avoided if the family of the shooter had safely secured firearms in their household. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Debra M. Sariñana (D-Albuquerque) and Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque).

“Common sense gun laws can prevent these types of tragedies. The root cause of gun violence is easy access to firearms. Guns must be kept out of the hands of those who should not have them, especially our children. That is the adult thing to do,” Regina Griego said. Griego, a former student of Washington Middle School and grandmother of six, called on the governor to include the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act in the upcoming crime package. Griego became a staunch advocate on gun legislation in the state ever since she lost five members due to a “troubled” family member gaining access to an unsecured firearm.

“I am convinced that my family members would still be alive today if those firearms were securely stored. No single law can stop gun violence, but we can do so much more than we are now,” Griego added.

“Bennie Hargrove died because a child was able to access an unsecured firearm — that’s unacceptable,” said Elaine Miller, a volunteer with the New Mexico chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Unfortunately Bennie’s death doesn’t stand alone, incidents of gunfire on school grounds and unintentional shootings by children are on the rise in our state and across the country. But thankfully, they can be prevented by keeping firearms securely stored. It’s more important than ever that the legislature and Governor Lujan Grisham honor Bennie with action — starting with passing secure storage legislation.” 

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez spoke in support of including the “Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act” in the governor’s upcoming crime package. A gun owner himself, Torrez emphasized that the gun safety measure would encourage state gun owners to take greater responsibility for their firearms. “While I recognize the right of Americans under the second amendment to keep and bear arms, I think it’s also appropriate that we talk about responsibility. Because it isn’t just about the rights we have that are afforded under the constitution, it’s about the responsibility that we have as responsible gun owners to make sure that those weapons are kept from those with diagnosed mental illness and individuals who have felony records,” Torrez said.

“If you are going to own a gun, you have a responsibility to make sure that that weapon is locked away and secured. You have a responsibility to make sure that young people can’t get access to it. And with the passage of the ‘Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act,’ if you fail to secure those weapons, you will be subject to criminal liability,” Torrez added.

“New Mexico must protect its children from the excessive violence that is occurring in Albuquerque and across this nation. Bennie’s family cannot stand idly by without showing support for the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act being presented by State representative Pamela Herndon. Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act is being presented to this great state to prevent unnecessary gun violence that previously occurred here,” a family friend said, speaking on behalf of the Hargrove family who opted not to be present at the press conference due to the proximity to the middle school.

Under the act, the owner of a firearm that is involved in illegal activity could be found guilty and charged with a fourth-degree felony. It could also carry a $1,000 fine. It is intended to encourage gun owners to safely secure their firearms and prevent those who should not have a firearm, especially children, from accessing them.