SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature joined a national debate over gun violence Monday as lawmakers considered a proposal to require criminal background checks of people buying firearms from private sellers, including at gun shows.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony for more than two hours from supporters and opponents of the measure. More than 200 people packed a public gallery overlooking the House chambers to watch the hearing.
The debate over the gun legislation comes a month after a Connecticut school shooting that claimed 26 lives.
Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque said his proposal will help prevent sales of firearms to people prohibited from buying firearms, including convicted felons and those with a history of mental illness.
“We want to keep these weapons away from individuals who shouldn’t be possessing them in the first place,” said Garcia.
Federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed dealers in stores or at gun shows. However, the law doesn’t cover firearm sales between private individuals, whether at a gun show or someone’s home.
Opponents, including the National Rifle Association, said the bill won’t stop criminals from acquiring guns because they typically don’t try to buy firearms at gun shows.
“This bill is unenforceable and has the unintended consequence of affecting only those who follow the law and completely overlooks the fact that if someone wants to do us harm, they’re going to find a way to do so — regardless of the law — with or without a gun,” said Steve Aikens, a certified firearms instructor from Clovis.
Santa Fe Mayor David Coss supported the legislation and said he’s a hunter and gun owner.
“I think it’s a very common sense, public safety agenda,” said Coss.
Lawmakers were shown some of the 194 firearms the city recently collected through a gun buyback programs. Included were handguns and military-style assault weapons with high capacity ammunition magazines.
NRA lobbyist Tara Reilly Mica said states like New Mexico should focus on improving the mental health records and other information in the federal background system and prosecuting those who try to illegally buy or sell guns.