Monday, March 27, 2023

MLG and Bipartisan Lawmakers Meet in the Middle on Gun Bills and Crime


By Robert Nott/Santa Fe New Mexican

Legislative leaders, law enforcement and advocates who want to put a stop to gun violence circled around Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham with a vow to work together to eradicate something that New Mexicans want eradicated: crime.

Noting the country seem to be enveloped in a wave of crime and in the wake of recent mass shootings, Lujan Grisham said at a news conference Wednesday she is "hurt personally, intellectually and emotionally about what is occurring around the world, around the country ... in my backyard.

"Everyday, everywhere, somebody is experiencing a public safety or crime issue in every single corner of our state," she said. "Not only is it untenable but it is unacceptable."

Per capita, New Mexico — and especially Albuquerque — have among the highest violent crimes rates in the country according to some studies. Albuquerque had 120 homicides last year, the city's highest number ever. Punctuating Wednesday's proceedings with a touch of sober reality was an announcement by Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, who said his agency was investigating another likely homicide even as the conference played out at the state Capitol.

Wednesday's news conference stressed the need to build long-term public safety infrastructure through bipartisan cooperation and idea-sharing. In one sign of such cooperation, House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, plans to introduce a bill closing legal loopholes on "straw purchases" of guns, where someone serves as an intermediary to buy a gun for a felon. Lane said in an interview after the conference the bill could act as "another arrow in prosecutors' quivers" and help keep felons from acquiring firearms.

Lane told the assembly at Wednesday's news conference that there will be some measures Republicans and Democrats do not agree on, adding House Republicans will "seek to protect Second Amendment rights."

But, he said, both parties need to put politics aside if there are proposals to make New Mexicans safer.

"If it's going to help, let's get it done," Lane said. 

Still, while several House Republicans were on hand for the event, no Senate Republicans were present. Last week Senate GOP leaders were critical of Lujan Grisham's State of the State address, in which she spoke of banning assault weapons and letting victims of gun violence sue gun manufacturers. Joaquin Romero, spokesman for Senate Republicans, said in an interview Wednesday his caucus did not receive an invitation to the event. 

That may mean, at least on the Senate side, there may be less bipartisan teamwork than expected.

"The group in attendance was reflective of the legislators sponsoring bills that fall under the public safety agenda items prioritized by the governor for the session," Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett wrote in an email.

Lujan Grisham said there will be differences in how some lawmakers and law enforcement officials see some of the crime-related bills in this year's legislative session. 

"Not every single person in this room agrees with every single effort," she said. Though it may not be "pretty" or "easy," she said she is convinced everyone interested in addressing the issue will come together to find solutions. 

Some of the legislative initiatives announced Wednesday will not surprise anyone following the discussion around crime as this year's 60-day legislative session moves through its second week. Those include:

  • Creating penalties for organized retail crime to target thieves who fund other crimes — like drug or gun deals — with money raised by selling goods stolen in shoplifting raids.
  • A bill establishing rebuttable presumption measures to keep people charged with the most serious crimes, including homicide and rape, behind bars as they await trial. The idea is that a judge would assume certain defendants are a danger to the community unless proven otherwise by the defendant’s attorney.
  • A ban on the purchase, delivery, manufacture and use of assault weapons, and
  • a bill giving victims of gun violence the right to bring civil lawsuits against firearm manufacturers.

Lujan Grisham also announced the creation of a Business Public Safety Council, which will keep track of how crime affects businesses and inform the Legislature whether current laws to fight crime are working.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the group can "give immediate feedback on crime to law enforcement agencies" and share resources, such as video footage of suspects in a shoplifting spree, to police. He said organized waves of retail theft — in which thieves brazenly steal from stores in tandem with similar criminal operations around a city or the state — remain one of the main concerns for businesses who often find they can do little, if anything, to stop the thefts.

Black made his comments as the Albuquerque Police Department announced that its officers, in conjunction with agents from the state Attorney General’s Office, had arrested 23 people — 19 of them repeat felony offenders — in retail crime operations in the northeast part of the city. 


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