Not with a bang but a whimper …
That’s how poet E.E. Cummings might have described the likely fate of several gun bills that have been prefiled for the upcoming legislative session.
Even though we now have a Democratic governor who might actually sign such legislation and even though Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature — the House by the biggest margin they’ve had in years — it’s hard to imagine any of the eight gun bills I’ve seen so far making it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
And while I say that she might sign some of those bills, the gun issue doesn’t seem to be at the top of the governor’s list of priorities. As my colleague Andrew Oxford recently noted, Lujan Grisham made no mention of the issue in her Jan. 1 inauguration speech.
Among the prefiled firearms bills are:
House Bill 8, concerning background checks for firearm sales (Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque).
HB 35, which would require firearms licensees who buy a gun to request the state Department of Public Safety check to see whether the gun was stolen (Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque).
HB 40, related to gun show background checks (also Garcia).
HB 87, related to domestic violence and firearm possession (Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque).
HB 105, which would increase penalty enhancements for those convicted of crimes involving firearms (Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque).
HB 130, which would add firearms crimes and penalties (Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe).
Senate Bill 8, concerning firearms sales background checks (Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española).
SB 201, titled the Firearm Transfer Act, also dealing with gun sales (Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque).
Why am I so skeptical about any of these passing?
The answer lies in the 2013 Legislature, which opened just a little bit more than a month after the Sandy Hook tragedy, in which a crazed gunman in Newtown, Conn., shot and killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adults.
That year, Garcia introduced a bill that would have required background checks for all gun purchases. At first, it seemed the measure was dead on arrival. Early in the session, the House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill.
But something remarkable happened. Then-House Republican Whip Nate Gentry worked with Garcia to come up with amendments to alleviate some of the opponents’ concerns in the original bill. Basically, they removed the provision that would have required background checks for all private gun sales, limiting the requirement to firearms purchased at gun shows. The bill also was amended to establish a procedure to align the state’s mental health and criminal conviction records with the federal background check system.
Gentry was able to persuade a handful of his fellow Republicans to go along with the compromise. And soon after, then-Gov. Susana Martinez said she would sign the bill in the form it was in. The bill ended up passing the House. It looked as if a bipartisan gun-control bill actually had legs in the Legislature.
But the bill hit the Senate with a big thud. Gun enthusiasts began campaigning heavily against it. It languished until the last week of the session. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Martinez didn’t even want to hear it, though eventually, after some public pressure, he did. The bill squeaked out of that committee, then didn’t make it to the Senate floor until the last hour of the session. Senate Republicans were successful in running down the clock.
By the time the pro-gun forces rose up, Gov. Martinez wasn’t exactly twisting senators’ arms to pass the bill through the Senate. Perhaps back in that time when there was national chatter about her being on some future GOP ticket, Martinez had second thoughts about being the first Republican governor to sign a gun-control bill in modern times, which surely would have made national news and would have received lots of national exposure as a champion of an issue so widely despised by the party’s base. Who knows?
If legislators couldn’t pass a relatively mild gun control bill right after Sandy Hook — with some bipartisan support and a Republican governor at least nominally on board — I don’t see how they can do it now.