Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Gun buyers would have to wait one week under bill passed by NM Senate

Both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature have voted in favor of a seven-day waiting period for all gun sales, though they still need to work out some differences before the proposal can be sent to the governor’s desk.

The New Mexico Senate on Saturday night voted 23-18 to pass House Bill 129, which would require a gun seller to wait seven days after the purchase to deliver a gun to the buyer.

The bill passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 2 in a 37-33 vote. Since the Senate amended the bill, it must return to the House so they can agree to the changes before it can go to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to be signed into law.

HB 129 is sponsored by Reps. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe), Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D-Albuquerque) and Cristina Parajón (D-Albuquerque). Sens. Linda M. Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) are sponsors in the other chamber.

Proponents point to mass shootings in the U.S. committed with guns bought a week earlier, and say waiting periods have been shown to reduce gun homicides and suicides.

Cervantes, who carried the bill on the Senate floor, said in his closing statement the legislation means a lot to him because his law office is in El Paso, and his community was affected by the racist mass shooting in 2019 at a Walmart. The shooter was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences for the killings, including hate crimes because he targeted Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

“Imagine what that did to our community, Las Cruces and El Paso,” Cervantes said. “Imagine what it feels like to know that you’re hunted because you’re brown.”

He said the bill may not solve the problem of mass killings, “but the statistics show we will make an impact on suicide deaths and we will reduce guns in circulation.”

The bulk of Saturday night’s debate was over three failed amendments introduced by Republicans which sought to circumvent the waiting period for active duty military, people who have obtained a family violence protection order and those who pass a background check before the waiting period is over.

Across four-and-a-half hours of debate on Saturday night, opponents argued a waiting period to buy a gun is effectively a ban. They said guns allow more vulnerable individuals to defend themselves, people will get guns some other way without waiting, and the proposal won’t actually decrease the number of suicides.

“This is gun control disguised as suicide prevention,” Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington) told the Senate.

Sen. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell) said he thinks New Mexico’s problem is young people getting guns.

“New Mexico has a problem with, frankly, minors who are incapable of purchasing a firearm, yet they seem to have them, and unfortunately they’re using them in places — and doing things with them that are horrific,” he said. “We have to get our handle around that, but taking people’s rights away I don’t think is a mechanism by which we address that.”

Three Democratic senators from Northern New Mexico, George Muñoz (Gallup), Pete Campos (Las Vegas) and Benny Shendo (Jemez Pueblo), joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

“These things are not going to change,” Muñoz said. “When people want access to a gun, they’re going to get access to a gun as quickly and as easily as they can get it.”

Muñoz said “common sense” is “not there anymore.”

“Sometimes children should be spanked, and whipped, and learn to respect things like guns and lives,” he said.

If New Mexico passes the bill into law, Cervantes said it would join other states with waiting periods ranging from three to 14 days including California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Washington D.C. also has a waiting period for gun buyers.

Delays in background checks wouldn’t prevent sales

The one floor amendment the Senate approved on Saturday would fix what Cervantes called a complication stemming from the way Congress adopted federal background check procedures.

When someone applies for a background check, they either get cleared immediately and complete the sale, or they get flagged and wait for three days. If they don’t hear anything, then they complete the sale. In the latter case, the background check continues but is abandoned after 30 days, Cervantes explained.

The bill passed by the House would have had the potential for a sale never being completed, he said. The Senate Judiciary Committee felt it would likely make the law unconstitutional, Cervantes told lawmakers.

“The difficulty this created is that you would have had the gun being released after the 30th day but the federal background check would be abandoned at the 30th day, and so the fact that these two things would have occurred simultaneously wouldn’t work as a practical matter,” Cervantes said.

So, the Senate amended the bill to allow for the seller to release the gun 20 days after purchase, even if the background check is incomplete.

The bill is a priority for Lujan Grisham and it has until noon on Feb. 15 to get approved again by the House.

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