SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — More than twice as many concealed-carry permits were issued in New Mexico last year when state and federal policymakers considered whe ther to tighten firearms laws, government records show.
The Department of Public Safety issued 10,601 licenses in 2013 compared with 4,793 the previous year, according to state records obtained by The Associated Press.
There has been no recent change in the concealed-handgun laws, and the state issued an average of about 4,500 licenses annually from 2008 to 2012.
Nearly 2.5 percent of New Mexico’s population age 21 and older — almost 37,600 people — have a license to carry a concealed handgun, according to department data.
Firearms instructors attribute the license increase partly to a push by the Legislature and Congress for new gun laws, including stricter criminal background checks on people who buy firearms and proposals to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. All of the measures have stalled in the statehouse and in the nation’s capital.
“A majority of the time what I hear from a lot of people is, ‘We want to get our permit now, buy our firearms now because we never know when the current administration is going to do some rule and start taking away our guns,” said Murrae Haynes of Santa Fe, who teaches classes for people seeking concealed-carry permits.
Clovis firearms instructor Steve Aikens agreed.
“When people see that at the federal level and then they see similar legislation trying to be introduced within our state, they start recognizing the fact that if they don’t start becoming involved, if they don’t start doing what’s necessary to retain their rights and privileges and the privileges granted by the state for concealed carry, they have a really, really good chance of losing them,” Aikens said.
New Mexico allows concealed-handgun permits for its residents who are 21 or older, are U.S. citizens and meet other requirements, including completion of a firearms training course and a criminal background check. New Mexico has reciprocal agreements with about two dozen states to honor their concealed-carry permits.
President Barack Obama advocated tougher gun measures after a deadly shooting in December 2012 at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
In the Legislature, the House approved a measure last year that would have required criminal background checks for private sales of firearms at a gun show. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor who is licensed to carry a concealed handgun, supported the measure. But the proposal died in the Senate.
Proponents of new gun laws had hoped to consider the background-check proposal during this year’s 30-day session, but Martinez didn’t place the measure on the Legislature’s agenda.
Proposals were offered to ban firearms in parts of the Capitol, but they quickly ran into strong opposition from those who said it would be a violation of the constitutional right to have firearms. Opponents also contended the Capitol is safer because people can carry guns in the building.
It’s legal to openly carry firearms in New Mexico except in certain places, including schools.
Democratic Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said he’ll renew efforts next year to ban guns in the Capitol.
Egolf and another Santa Fe lawmaker proposed the restrictions after constituents said they were afraid to attend legislative hearings because gun-rights supporters carried rifles and handguns in the Capitol.
Egolf said he’s not troubled by the increase in concealed-handgun licenses.
“One of the good things that Susana Martinez has done is strictly enforce New Mexico’s concealed-carry laws so that we do not have reciprocity with other states whose concealed carry laws are weaker than ours. So long as she continues to do that and so long as the training and background checks are in place, I think it’s fine for people to do what the law allows and get these permits,” Egolf said.