The first gun control bill of the legislative session to get to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has now been signed into law. The big question now is how many others will show up on her desk before the session wraps up this Saturday.
HB 9 creates the new crimes of “negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor” and “negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor resulting in great bodily harm or death”; misdemeanor and fourth-degree felonies, respectively. In practice, gun owners in the state are now expected to store their firearms locked up unless they’re being carried, at least if there are minors in the home, but the law is utterly unenforceable from a proactive standpoint. Even when the law is applied after a tragedy occurs the legal consequences are usually nothing, especially compared to the loss of a child. Take this recent case from North Carolina, for example.
A Gaston County assistant district attorney said that two parents and an uncle charged in the shooting death of a 4-year-old reached sentencing agreements on Monday.
Assistant district attorney Zach Holeve confirmed that Savannah Leigh Brehm and Hector Manuel Mendoza-Saucedo got 36-month probation sentences, while gun owner Keith Deshawn Sturghill received 24 months of probation.
Brehm, 22, Mendoza-Saucedo, 22, and Sturghill, 21, faced several charges, including felony involuntary manslaughter, felony child abuse, and the misdemeanor charge of storing a firearm in a manner accessible to a minor.
During a court hearing, prosecutors said the adults knew a loaded gun was on the home’s coffee table with the safety off. The gun belonged to Strughill.
Mendoza and Strughill left for work when the 5-year-old child and 4-year-old child found the weapon. A 5-year-old sibling shot the 4-year-old, according to investigators.
These three were charged with multiple felonies but only received probation for their negligence; presumably when their charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Given the overwhelming number of felony cases that result in plea bargains, I doubt that New Mexico’s gun storage law is going to have much teeth to it. Encouraging responsible gun storage, either through incentivizing the use of gun safes and locks or through public safety campaigns aimed at gun-owning parents, seems like a much better approach than creating a new crime, but this is still probably the least offensive gun control bill introduced by New Mexico Democrats this session.
There are still a number of other measures that could still get to Grisham’s desk before Friday, including SB 428, which would amend the state’s Unfair Practices Act to include firearms with an eye towards encouraging lawsuits against gun makers for allegedly fueling violence through their marketing. The measure passed out of the Senate last week, but so far has not received a committee hearing in the House.
Meanwhile, a bill banning the sale and possession of unregistered “assault weapons” is sitting in the House Judiciary Committee, and Grisham has run into some behind-the-scenes opposition that could derail the measure completely, Other legislation raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21 and establish a 14-day waiting period on gun sales are also still kicking around, but haven’t seen any committee action in recent weeks.
Any bills that aren’t approved by both Houses by noon on March 18th are theoretically done for the year, though Grisham has suggested she could call lawmakers back for a special session on gun control if they don’t enact her anti-2A wishlist. Given the lack of movement on many of the governor’s demands, it may be that Democrats have just decided to kick some of these cans down the road a couple of months, but I suspect that gun owners and groups like the New Mexico State Shooting Association are also having an impact on at least some of the legislators that Grisham hoped would be reliable votes for her gun control agenda.