Two state Senate Democrats are planning to resume the fight in January over a legal loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid criminal background checks by purchasing firearms from sellers who aren’t licensed dealers.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Martinez of Española and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe have pre-filed a bill that would require background checks on sales made at gun shows and other private firearm transactions. The measure is similar to a 2013 bill that passed through the House — with eight Republicans supporting it and Gov. Susana Martinez vowing to sign it. But that bill tanked in the Senate.
Richard Martinez, in an interview Tuesday, said he believes he can get the new bill through his committee, as well as the full Senate. “It’s not too extreme,” he said. “Essentially, it just expands background checks for gun sales.”
After the 2013 bill passed the House, the National Rifle Association intensified its lobbying efforts against it. Pro-gun advocates flooded senators with letters and emails and came to the Capitol to protest.
The bill didn’t get to the Senate floor until the final hour of the final day of the 2013 legislative session. Senate Republicans filibustered the measure, so the majority leader withdrew it.
Since then, efforts to expand background checks and close what’s often called the “gun show loophole” have not gotten very far in the New Mexico Legislature.
Gun control advocacy groups such as New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety, a national organization, support legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases, saying the measures are good ways to keep firearms away from criminals and people with severe mental issues.
But the NRA has fiercely opposed closing the gun show loophole at the federal level as well as the state level, arguing that such legislation infringes on Second Amendment Rights. The national organization’s website says the group “opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration. … Federal studies have repeatedly found that persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends.”
Asked about whether the governor would support the new measure, her spokesman Chris Sanchez said, “Nothing has changed on this issue.”
But the new bill goes further than the version Gov. Martinez endorsed in 2013. While that legislation would have only affected firearm purchases made at gun shows, the new bill includes other private sales. Under Wirth and Richard Martinez’s bill, the only gun sales that would not require background checks would be transfers between family members. Temporary transfers of firearms while hunting, or when target shooting at gun ranges, also would not require background checks.
Miranda Viscoli, a leader of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said Tuesday that these exceptions deal with concerns expressed by opponents during the 2013 debate. “Some people were far more concerned about family transfers than gun show sales,” she said.
Viscoli also said that excluding hunting trips in the new bill was a good move. “That’s only fair,” she said.
The bill would require an unlicensed seller and the buyer to take the gun being sold to a licensed dealer, who would then process the background check. The buyer and seller would have to complete and sign all forms required by state and federal laws to process the background check and to complete the transfer.
The firearms dealer would be allowed to charge a “reasonable fee” — not specified in the bill — for facilitating the transfer.
The bill includes criminal penalties for unlicensed sellers who violate the law. A first offense would be a misdemeanor, while second and subsequent offenses would be fourth-degree felonies.
Sen. Martinez said the bill was brought to him by lobbyist Julianna Koob, whose clients include Everytown for Gun Safety. Koob couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Everytown was active in the 2016 legislative elections in New Mexico. According to campaign finance data collected by the Secretary of State’s Office, the group contributed more than $28,000 to legislative candidates and another $19,000 to political action committees involved in legislative races.
In contrast, the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund contributed just over $16,000 to state legislative races in New Mexico and $1,200 to political action committees in the state.