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Gun legislation surfaces

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National debate > Bills come down on both sides of the issue

By Tris DeRoma

First in a two-part series

In the aftermath of the shootings in Aurora Colo., Newtown Conn. and Taft, Calif. Legislation both for and against gun control has been popping up all over the country.

As the national debate continues to foment, it was only a matter of time until New Mexico’s recently reconvened state legislature came up with some of its own.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Bernalillo, recently introduced legislation that he said would tighten up background checks at gun shows and also establishes a state background check system.

“Our Wild West days are over. Our Wild Bill Cody and Annie Oakley days are over. Our legislation will require background checks for the mentally and criminally adjudicated at gun shows in New Mexico, and for private individual purchases.” The bill is known as HB 77.

Another piece of proposed legislation is HB 114, sponsored by Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, seems to go completely in the opposite direction. It tells the feds to back off — or else.

“An official, agent or employee of the United States government who enforces or attempts to enforce any act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States government upon a personal firearm or firearm accessory, or upon ammunition, that is owned or is manufactured commercially or privately in New Mexico, and that remains exclusively within the borders of New Mexico, is guilty of a third degree felony and shall be punished by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) or by imprisonment for a definite term not to exceed three years or both,” says one paragraph in the legislation.

Other provisions in the bill declare that all federal legislation created after July 1, 2013 relating to gun control is null and void within the borders of New Mexico. It also calls for the state’s attorney general to defend any resident accused of violating federal gun regulations.

Los Alamos’ three state representatives, Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, Sen. Carlos Cisneros and Sen. Richard C. Martinez have not drafted any gun control legislation. However they did note the session has just started and if the bills make it out of their respective committees and come up for a vote, they will study HB 77 and HB 114 and others like them before making any decisions.

“I’d like to take a look at everything being proposed, obviously, before making a decision on it,” Garcia Richard said.

As far as the Second Amendment goes, Garcia Richard said she takes a moderate approach.

“I do support the right of New Mexicans to own and keep guns,” Garcia Richard said. “My dad was in World War II; my husband comes from a long tradition of hunting and gun ownership in his family, so I do recognize gun ownership as a reality. We have a long history as a nation, as well as a state, of gun ownership.”

Garcia Richard believes the first thing that should be done is to strictly enforce the gun control laws already on the books, and then come up with common sense legislation that addresses the recent mass shootings.

“It drives home the point that our current laws aren’t working as intended,” Garcia Richard said “... I’ve heard from a number of constituents on this issue and one gentlemen said this, ‘There’s a difference between gun violence and gun ownership. Gun violence is not something we want to see as a society, but gun ownership is something we do want to support so we should want to strike a balance.’ ”

Cisneros said he also “stands firm” when it comes to supporting the second amendment.

“I think the right to bear arms should supersede any legislation,” he said. “Having said that, of course, we’ve all heard the news reports and read the articles about the devastating effect of military style weapons and large-capacity clips; those need some attention and some legislation to have better control of them, but not necessarily do away with them.”

Cisneros said the big factor that needs to be addressed is mental health.

“We need to give our individual attention to people who are not qualified to use a firearm. That needs to be legislated and controlled.”

Like the others, Martinez couldn’t comment directly on the proposed gun legislation since he hadn’t seen it yet.

However, he did say he would like to see some controls in place that would address the recent mass shootings.

“I think that we do need some kind of gun control,” he said, “especially when it comes to semiautomatic guns.”

Martinez also likes the idea of gun buybacks, especially the ones that have recently happened in Santa Fe and elsewhere.

“I like the efforts that Santa Fe and Albuquerque have initiated to purchase guns,” he said.

“I wish we didn’t have to purchase them, but if that’s what it takes to get the (illegally purchased) guns off the streets ... then that’s what we have to do.”

Martinez said he would like to limit magazine loads too, but he doesn’t want to go too far and make it hard for law-abiding citizens to own guns.

“I think it’s very sad what’s happened in Connecticut and around the world, and I do think it’s our responsibility to control it,” Martinez said. “But there’s always going to be that black market. If a criminal wants to get a hold of a gun he’s going to do it one way or another.”

Like his colleagues, Martinez said he, too, wants to explore the mental health factor that seems to come up in these mass shootings.

“If anyone has even some slight mental issues, that means he or she is in danger of hurting themselves as well as others,” Martinez said.