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Local lawmakers oppose gun control bill

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New Mexico House Minority Leader Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia. (AP Photo)

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Local lawmakers Monday panned a bill that would mandate federal background checks for all firearm sales in New Mexico, saying the proposal is not realistic and infringes upon people’s right to bear arms.

The Background Check for Firearms Sales or House Bill 8 (HB 8) was one of four gun safety bills to pass the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee Thursday by a vote of 3 to 2. State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who sits on the Committee, voted against all four bills.

The legislation now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, where State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell and a member of that committee, said hearings on the bills have yet to be scheduled.

If signed into law, HB 8 would require a background check be conducted for any sale of a gun that takes place for a fee or other consideration. The text of the bill defines sale as the sale, delivery or passing of ownership, possession or control of a firearm for a fee or other consideration.

Both the seller and the buyer could be charged with a misdemeanor if a sale takes place where a background check is not conducted. Current federal law requires that any licensed firearms dealer conduct a federal background check.

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A person with a current and valid federal firearms license, a sale to a law enforcement agency or between two law enforcement officers would all be exempt from the bill’s requirements, according to the text of HB 8.

Ezzell in an interview Monday said HB 8 is “a slap in the face of the second amendment rights of New Mexicans.”

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia — a member of the House Judiciary Committee — said he is getting flooded with calls about HB 8.

“There are not many people in our neck of the woods that support this at all,” Townsend said. He added that he has received calls not only from Chaves and Eddy counties, both in his House district, but also places such as Albuquerque.

State Rep. Debra Sarinana, D-Albuquerque, one of five sponsors of the bill, testified before the committee that the bill is designed as a way to prevent people who have committed a criminal act from obtaining a gun. She said the bill would apply to all private sales, but would not require a background check for guns passed down to a loved one.

“This is something that is common sense, I think it’s public safety and I think we need to take a stand,” Raul Torres, Bernallio County District Attorney who spoke in favor of HB 8, said at Thursday’s hearing.

Townsend and other critics though say the bill is vague and difficult to enforce. Multiple county sheriffs throughout New Mexico, including Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington, were in Santa Fe Thursday to speak out against the bill.

Tony Mace, Cibola County Sheriff and chair of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association, said to the committee that the majority of members in his organization oppose the bill as written.

He added that without a national firearm registry and state mandated firearm registry requirements not included in the bill, HB 8 is unenforceable.

“This is a feel-good piece of legislation that provides no means of enforcement or a mechanism to verify that a background check was even conducted,” Mace said.

He said in order to enforce HB 8, law enforcement would have to rely on a suspect admitting to having received a gun without a background check.

Townsend later echoed the sentiment of many opponents at the hearing, and said the law would burden law abiding citizens more than it would deter criminals.

He referenced a 2016 study from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics that found more than half of inmates in federal and state prisons who possessed a gun in the commission of a crime either bought it off the street, from an illegal underground market it, stole it or found it at the scene of another crime.

By contrast, 10 percent bought their gun from a retail store and less than one percent from a gun show.

“It’s not law abiding citizens that decide to commit crime with a gun, it’s criminals who decide to commit crime with a gun,” he said.

Torres though said while there are other measures that can be taken to prevent gun deaths, HB 8 is a step in the right direction.

“It’s not a perfect bill by any means and will not by itself solve the problem of gun violence and when you think of the problem of inaction, I think the inconvenience to gun owners such as myself is well worth it,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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