Committee tables New Mexico background check bill

A panel of legislators in New Mexico shut down a last-minute effort to revive an expanded background check bill Monday, effectively relegating the issue until next session.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548, a gun control proposal sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. It’s the latest iteration of her House Bill 50, which stalled in committee last month.

“I said from the begin I was interested in striking a balance between public safety and convenience,” she said Monday. “I believe this gets us the closest to that goal that we’ve been.”

Richard said the new version of bill doesn’t include background checks temporary transfers, but rather targets sales between strangers via online marketplaces, at gun shows or through unlicensed sellers.

“The intent of the legislation is to get at stranger to stranger sales,” she said. “So if you post something and you don’t know who you’re selling to, that’s what we are going after.”

The committee’s decision came after a packed four-plus hour meeting, including limited testimony from five “spokespersons” on each side of the debate.

“I do think what she wants to do is good,” said John Sugg, district attorney of Lincoln and Otero counties. “I just disagree with the approach.”

Sugg and others argued there was no credible way to enforce the bill and expressed disappointment that some lawmakers didn’t seem to care.

“No matter how many times it’s been rewritten … it’s still ineffective, it’s still unworkable, still unenforceable and it has no effect on criminality,” said Gerald Baker, board member of the Single Action Shooting Society. “I understand this is an emotional issue, but it is a mistake to pass a law that has been peddled by out of state influences.”

Baker and other bill detractors referenced the influence of Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control lobbying arm bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Everytown detailed its investigation of online firearm marketplaces in New Mexico in a report released Feb. 8. Group investigators, who posted more than two dozen online ads for firearms as part of its examination, said one in 15 prospective buyers couldn’t legally own a gun due to criminal records — two-thirds of which still had active warrants or were either on parole or probation.

“This investigation shines a light on the way dangerous criminals in New Mexico take advantage of the background check loophole,” said Sarah Tofte, Everytown for Gun Safety Research Director. “The findings are clear: New Mexico criminals—including people convicted of serious violent crimes like domestic violence, attempted kidnapping and armed robbery—turn to online, unlicensed gun sales to arm themselves.”

Bloomberg, through his various organizations, spent millions in the 2016 election pushing expanded background check laws and other gun regulations across the nation.

One such effort, a ballot referendum in Nevada last year expanding background checks to private sales, passed by less than 10,000 votes, with critics deeming it virtually unenforceable due to a technicality in the language of the law. Nevada State Attorney General Adam Laxalt issued an opinion in December reiterating as much and has yet to set an implementation date.

The same referendum in Maine failed 48-52 percent.