For years, firearm owners could bring their guns — concealed with a valid permit or carried openly — into the state Capitol, even during a legislative session.

During hearings on contentious gun-related issues, they often did.

Those days are gone.

Lawmakers on the Legislative Council voted 8-5 Monday to prohibit members of the public from carrying weapons into the Roundhouse, including concealed guns carried by permit-holders. The vote fell along party lines, with Republicans in opposition.

The weapons ban will go into effect Dec. 6, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to call a special session on redistricting.

Republican Sens. Greg Baca of Belen and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho issued a statement after the council meeting blasting the decision.

“It is clear that Democratic leaders in New Mexico know no bounds when it comes to their unchecked power,” the statement said. “Although we are used to legislative assaults on New Mexican’s rights, this is a uniquely bad, overly-broad, and rushed proposal that was written by politicians, not safety experts. … With no one to stop a criminal from jeopardizing all of our safety, this rule does little more than paint a target on our building for those who wish to do harm.”

State Rep. Rebecca Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, also criticized the ban, calling those in favor of it “radicals.”

“I have fought the radical legislature on this issue before, and I am happy to stand up to them again,” she wrote in a statement.

The weapons ban applies to the state Capitol, the nearby Capitol annex and the walkway that connects the two buildings.

State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, a sponsor of the measure, said the move was intended to take guns out of the political process.

“This building needs to be a safe place for the public, for all of the public, for our staff, and it needs to be safe for all of us,” he said after introducing the measure to members of the Legislative Council, a bipartisan interim panel of state House and Senate members.

“There are places where guns just don’t mix,” Wirth added.

The gun ban comes about 10 weeks before the start of the 30-day legislative session for 2022, which will focus on the state budget but may also be dominated by crime-fighting legislation amid a rise in violence. A Democrat-led initiative likely to be introduced would provide money for recruitment and retention of officers, would increase the state’s behavioral health workforce and would stiffen penalties for second-degree murder charges.

It’s unclear if gun control — an emotional issue for both sides in the debate — would be included in the session. Wirth spoke Monday of past sessions in which constituents carried guns into politically charged debates on gun bills.

In the 17 years he has served in the Legislature, Wirth said, there have been times when he felt “extremely intimidated and fearful because guns were being used and brandished.”



Other Democratic lawmakers, including several who said they own guns, backed the ban and called it a necessary safety measure to keep the democratic process free of potential violence.

Republicans said, however, the initiative would make lawmakers more vulnerable because they would have no way to protect themselves if gun violence broke out.

“You are asking me to sit down here and be vulnerable to anybody,” said Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, an outspoken advocate for gun rights.

“I don’t want to sit here like a sitting duck,” she said.

Other Republican lawmakers said they did not approve of an interim committee of just 16 legislators making a decision that affects the entire 112-member Legislature and the general public. Some questioned a provision in the measure that gives two Democratic lawmakers — Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe — the right to grant exceptions to the policy.

Brandt, an Air Force veteran, told Wirth the proposal gives the authority to “two individuals who have no training to know if it’s safe to allow a person with a firearm to enter the building with a firearm.”

Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, introduced an amendment to strike the clause give Stewart and Egolf the authority to grant exceptions, but it failed.

The debate became heated at times.

Baca, a Navy veteran, opposed a plan to move the discussion behind closed doors so the council could discuss specific Capitol security measures, including staffing and costs. But the council moved forward with an executive session.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, an Army veteran who served as a medic during the Vietnam War, said he wasn’t sure he would trust some of his colleagues if they were carrying guns and violence broke out.

“I have a fear of guns because I know what guns can do to a human body,” he said. “So if you think having somebody running around with a gun is the nicest thing in the world, try going to war and carrying a gun.”

Monday’s action was the latest in a series of moves to limit guns in the state Capitol. In 2019, a policy allowing visitors to carry guns into the building was modified for opening-day events and any joint sessions of the House and Senate.

At that time, some lawmakers cited security concerns following mass shootings around the nation.

The issue did not come up during the 2021 session because the Capitol was off-limits to visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic. But legislative decisions to prohibit public access to the Roundhouse and surround the building with fencing after the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol set off a wave of opposition from people who said the actions were squelching their right to free speech.

In January 2020, hundreds of gun-rights advocates rallied at the Capitol to protest legislation allowing police to seize firearms from people deemed to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others.

Perhaps surprisingly, no protesters or supporters of the gun ban showed up for Monday’s hearing. Only a few people attended in person.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(25) comments

Mark Stahl

It would be good to see people defend voting rights with the same vigor that they defend gun rights.

Khal Spencer

I agree. Which is why I defend voting, abortion, 2A, 1A, 4A, and whatever other rights seem to be threatened. How about you?

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Joseph Hempfling

thank you PETER for being the adult in the room !

Charlotte Rowe

pity the coward who feels the desperate need to cling to his pacifier firearm wherever he goes.

Mike Johnson

Exactly, as a left wing hero once said: ""And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said." But wait, weren't those the very same people who elected Trump instead of Hillary? But I guess they don't matter anyway.....

Khal Spencer

That sure helped.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Khal Spencer

As a board certified gun nut, I nonetheless never thought it was politically wise to show up at the Roundhouse for a contentious gun bill hearing equipped for an Anbar Province firefight and wearing a scowl better suited for Parris Island. It just scares some people, i.e., things get angry and what could possibly go wrong?

Perhaps a better solution to demonstrating support for the 2A, and likely more effective, is for all gun rights supporters to show up with blue I'm The NRA T-shirts to show that the red shirted Moms Demanding You Turn In Your Guns are not the only people there. I suggest everyone wear blue so the hearings, in the future, look like a sea of blue.

My suspicion is it will be more effective than carrying an AR as a protest against infringement, i.e., it won't scare the cr*p out of people not used to seeing firearms up close and personal but will show strength in numbers, that we are serious about policy, and we are there to say so.

Now, we just gotta get Wayne LaPierre to buy us t-shirts rather than squandering money on his expensive, Hollywood suits.

Chris Mechels

With the increasingly "scofflaw" attitude of the Trifecta, which commonly violates our laws; including IPRA, OMA and the Rules Act, thus cutting off citizens right to participate in governance, perhaps I favor the Republican positions. As the Rule of Law is no more in our state, and the lawless Trifecta rules, perhaps we need to arm ourselves, against the the government. A sad time.

We need a Republican Governor to have any "balance" in our government. Our current Governor chooses NOT to enforce, or even obey, our laws. A shameless incompetent.

Khal Spencer

Hopefully it does not come to that, Chris, but I do get your drift. Single party rule leads to things like Mayor Daley's Cook County machine, Tammany Hall, and....New Mexico.

Now, will a credible GOP candidate with a compelling platform please step up?

LeRoy Sanchez

👎

Mike Johnson

Yes, more of the obvious paranoia of the left wing (and of course continuing their siege mentality for political purposes) over anyone who might have the temerity to question their actions and dominance, no doubt further changes are coming to restrict citizen access and critical speech there. This is just overkill and unnecessary, but it will make the snowflakes feel better, so why not, it makes no difference anyway. But a real contrast to what was happening in 1910 at the capital during the Constitutional Convention: "The atmosphere at the convention was tense, and some delegates were said to have kept weapons in their desks."

Joe Brownrigg

I conclude you'd prefer a capital like the one in Washington, D.C., on January 6th?

Mike Johnson

Yes, since none of the rioters were armed with guns, yet the police had them and used them to shoot and kill a rioter point blank in the face. The police should have guns, not rioters.

Joe Brownrigg

Are you sure the rioters had no guns? And they had no other weapons? And they harmed no one nor damaged democracy?

Alexander Brown

Thank you. Or shall we wait until rabid armed citizens try to kidnap our elected Officials as they did in Michigan. Or violently stop Constitutional due Process as they did on Jan 6th. Federal Officials have been warning of extremist potentially violent plans to take over all 50 State Capitols in 2021. This is just common sense in a time when a minority would trample democracy.

David Ford

Agreed. There are restrictions in all states that prohibit campaigning (shirts/hats/signs etc.) within a certain distance of a polling station for a good reason. But now we have a new breed of "freedom lovin' 'Murrican Fascists" whose need to carry an AR15 (really an M-16) is solely for the purpose of intimidation and not a 2nd Amendment exercise, which is almost always misinterpreted. I do not consider these people patriots but soldier wannabes and fascists in waiting who are probably overcompensating for their high levels of estrogen.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Joe Brownrigg

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Cleve Spence

A no brainer! Finally a little common sense!

Miranda Viscoli

A heartfelt thank you to our courageous elected officials who voted to ban firearms in the New Mexico State Capitol. Democracy is not who has the biggest gun in the room. It was unnerving to have people armed to the teeth stare us down every time we testified in support of common sense gun violence prevention legislation. In one incident, a man with an AR-15 followed us to the bathroom. Another time we heard a group of armed men laughing and talking about how they were enjoying intimidating us with their guns. When we brought in youth to testify, they were extremely nervous to have people who were against their position standing behind them in committee rooms heavily armed.

LeRoy Sanchez

You are so right! Gun lust is a disease in our country and has to end.

Joe Brownrigg

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Angel Ortiz

GOOD! Finally something good from the Roundhouse. I'm tired of all the weapons being carried around during protests. Although I'm sure we'll see peeps in their camouflage outfits and horses again.

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