In 2013, about this time, I attended a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall. It was called “Three Perspectives: Past, Present, Future.” Recently retired U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, newly elected Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Udall were all there. The event was less than a month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when many Americans were still in shock about the horror of 20 first graders and 6 teachers being massacred in their classrooms.
It was a relaxed atmosphere with an equally relaxed question-and-answer format. Many questions were focused on economic issues as Obama embarked on his second term. Perplexed that no one had asked about guns, I raised my hand. Udall recognized me for the final question.
I asked Heinrich and Udall if they would support President Obama’s recently announced gun safety regulations. These included expanded background checks for all gun sales, bans on high-capacity magazines, and reinstating the assault-weapons ban. Heinrich didn’t respond and punted to Bingaman. Udall talked of improving mental health services.
Even though I was aware of the highly charged politics around any gun measures in Washington and the pressure from the National Rifle Association, I thought that the Sandy Hook massacre would generate bi-partisan support for new measures. I was wrong.
Later in the spring, both senators voted for a watered-down version of Obama’s agenda but even the weakened version failed to pass.
Fast forward or maybe just slow walk to 2023 and progress.
Nationally, President Biden and Congress made a baby step for gun safety with the passage of the Safe Communities Act. It closes the boyfriend loophole, expands background checks for ages 18 to 21, including accessing juvenile records, and establishes new criminal penalties for strawman purchase of firearms.
The president has vowed to continue to work across the aisle to pass additional gun safety laws including reinstating the assault-weapons ban. During the 10 years of the previous ban there was a decrease in mass shootings.
In 2020 New Mexico joined 19 other states and passed an Extreme Risk Protection Order (Red Flag Law), which allows temporary confiscation of firearms from those who might be a threat to themselves or others.
This year, with sensible gun bills, New Mexico lawmakers want to address increased gun safety.
House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, requires gun owners to properly secure firearms to make them inaccessible to minors. It carries criminal penalties. According to survey of 145 school shootings by the Center for American Progress, 80% were committed with guns taken from students’ homes. Forty-five percent of suicides among children 17 and younger are committed with a firearm in the home.
HB 100 would require a 14-day waiting period for purchasing firearms. Data show that a waiting period prevents impulsive or angry purchases and are effective in preventing adult suicides.
SB 116 would raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase automatic or assault weapons. Some advocates would like the age limit to be higher, but this is a step forward.
Sandy Hook didn’t inspire meaningful legislative action. It took gun violence in Uvalde, Buffalo, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, theaters, and churches to get the first meaningful gun safety bill in 30 years.
And yet, we still live with these unbelievable statistics: 124 people every day killed by gun violence, 2 million guns purchased every month, 43 mass shootings in 2023 so far, 472 firearm deaths in New Mexico in 2022. More than half (52%) of suicides in the state are carried out with firearms.
It’s a slow walk to real gun safety. Ask our legislators to take the next step.