After a 13-year old middle school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico was shot and killed by a classmate earlier this week, gun control activists and anti-gun lawmakers wasted little time before using the shooting as a reason to put more gun control laws on the books; specifically a mandate to lock up all firearms when they’re not in use or else suffer the legal consequences.
“The point of the bill is to make a strong statement from the state that you should secure your firearms,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D- Albuquerque). The Democratic state senator sponsored a bill this past legislative session that would’ve made it a misdemeanor if gun owners didn’t lock up their guns and someone else got a hold of it. “It’s an educational function first and then there’s a consequence if you don’t,” said the Senator.
Ehhh… it sounds like there’s not much education involved, other than perhaps telling gun owners that they could face criminal charges if they don’t keep their guns under lock and key.
And when it comes to criminal charges, it sounds like law enforcement already has statutes that they can use to charge parents if their minor children get ahold of a gun and use it in the commission of a crime.
“We’re going to be actively looking at whether or not there’s any criminal liability in the instant case for his parents or anyone else who might have allowed him to have access to the weapon,” said [Bernalillo County D.A. Raul] Torrez. “We’ll be looking very carefully and very closely at the facts surrounding the murder of Bennie Hargrove to see whether or not anyone who may have enabled him to access that weapon can be held criminally responsible.”
DA Torrez says in the past, they’ve been able to use the child abuse and child endangerment state statutes, but nothing will come until detectives complete their investigation. As for Juan Saucedo Jr, the DA’s office says it’s too early to determine how they’ll charge him since traditionally, he doesn’t meet the age requirement to be tried as an adult.
I get the desire on the part of politicians to “do something” in the wake of a high-profile event, but what good, exactly, would a gun storage requirement actually do? Since there’s no way to proactively police the law without entering private homes and checking to see that guns are secured (which would be a major violation of our Fourth Amendment rights to go along with the infringement to our Second Amendment rights), at best a gun storage law provides for a criminal charge after the fact. And since prosecutors in New Mexico have been able to use child abuse and child endangerment laws to prosecute similar cases in the past, it doesn’t appear that a gun storage law would be useful or necessary.
And then there’s the question of whether or not a gun storage bill like the one proposed by Sen. Sedillo Lopez would pass constitutional muster. Several of her colleagues are already questioning the legality of Lopez’s legislation.
“There is a Supreme Court case that would’ve affected Senator Sedillo Lopez’s bill,” said House Minority Leader, Rep. James Townsend (R- Artesia). They refer to the Heller Decision from the U.S. Supreme Court which they said guarantees the right to possess firearms and adds that this bill would put limitations on possessions of firearms. Sedillo Lopez disagrees.
“All constitutional rights including the second amendment require a balance between safety and the individual right and here we have a lot of evidence in New Mexico suicides, accidental shootings and domestic violence shootings are all higher than the rest of the state,” said Sen. Sedillo Lopez. “There is a problem in the state that could be addressed in a bill like this.”
The Heller case did find Washington, D.C.’s storage requirements for firearms unconstitutional, but anti-gun groups have tweaked their model legislation in the years since to take the court’s ruling into account. Instead of a blanket requirement to keep all firearms locked up at all times, most storage bills that have been enacted into law post-Heller require guns to be locked up if they’re not being actively carried or are “under the control” of the gun owner. While several of those laws have been challenged in court, to date the Supreme Court has not weighed in on the legality of such mandates.
The next legislative session in New Mexico is limited by law to just 30 days, so unless a gun storage bill gets the backing of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (a distinct possibility, given her anti-gun attitudes) it’s not likely to go anywhere. Honestly, that would be the best outcome. I’m all in favor of encouraging gun owners to store their firearms responsibly, but a one-size-fits-all law that imposes criminal sanctions on those who don’t keep their guns locked up at all times isn’t the way to go about it. Imagine, for instance, charging the mother of the 12-year old boy in North Carolina who recently had to shoot a home invader because she allowed her child to gain access to the handgun. I can’t imagine anyone beyond the most vocal supporters of gun control backing a prosecution like that, but a situation like that could easily come to pass if the state were to impose storage mandates on gun owners. If lawmakers really want to “do something,” improving access to mental health services in school would be a much better place to start.