Two days before a much-anticipated domestic terrorism summit aimed at preventing further bloodshed after the El Paso shooting, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said new legislation could be proposed requiring background checks on some private sellers of firearms.
Lujan Grisham did not elaborate on the subject after a Monday morning news conference to introduce a new public education secretary but suggested expanding background checks was an idea worth considering. Her office did not respond when asked whether the governor planned to propose such legislation.
A bill signed into law earlier this year requires background checks on gun buyers for sales between private individuals, but it does not require such checks on sellers. The governor said it was “premature” to discuss the details of a possible bill as the issue was still being studied.
“I’m seeing members of our state and folks around the country talk about background checks that could apply to sellers,” Lujan Grisham said, adding such a measure could help ensure guns “don’t get into the wrong hands.”
The governor has organized a summit for Wednesday to discuss measures that could prevent mass violence in New Mexico. The conference will include an FBI briefing and will be attended by lawmakers from both parties and by Cabinet secretaries.
Legislators, gun safety advocates and lobbyists contacted Monday said they had not heard about a proposal to require checks on sellers, either in New Mexico or in other states.
Ari Freilich, staff attorney at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he wasn’t familiar with such an initiative but that it might be aimed at identifying sellers who acquired firearms without a background check in the past.
If, for instance, a buyer in a private transaction doesn’t pass a background check and the sale doesn’t go through, then an additional check could hypothetically be performed on the seller to ensure that person is fit to take the gun back, Freilich said.
“Because we’ve had weak gun safety laws in so many states, a lot of folks have been able to acquire a firearm they shouldn’t have,” Freilich said.
State Reps. Daymon Ely and Joy Garratt, who co-sponsored a separate gun bill last session, said they hadn’t heard of such an initiative.
“This is something new to me,” Garratt said, adding further measures regulating private sales could be helpful. “I think it has to be explored.”
Emilie De Angelis, volunteer chapter leader with New Mexico Moms Demand Action, and Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, also said they were unfamiliar with the idea but in principle could favor background checks on sellers.
“I’ve never seen any research on a measure like that,” De Angelis said. “In spirit, we think it’s obviously a great thing to have more measures in place to keep guns out of dangerous hands.”
The New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association had a much different point of view.
“That would be absurd and ridiculous if they’re trying to do that,” said Tony Mace, sheriff of Cibola County and chairman of the association. “It’s another piece of legislation that would go after the law-abiding citizen as opposed to the criminal.”
Mace also said he hadn’t heard of the idea but said it would be ineffective because potential sellers who are criminals likely would avoid a background check in any case.
“Even if a bad guy needs to unload a gun, they’re not going to go for a background check,” he said.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, didn’t have more information on the potential legislation Monday.
Lujan Grisham also said she expects legislation to be approved in the next session that would allow police a means of getting a court order to remove guns from people considered dangerous.
A so-called red-flag bill, which would allow courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders,” was passed by the House in the last legislative session but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.
“You should expect to see that bill get over the finish line,” the governor said on Monday.
Dominic Gabello, the governor’s senior advisor for policy and strategy, said last week that a similar bill to the one proposed in the last session is being prepared.
“If there are proposed enhancements to the bill from law enforcement, we’re open to that,” Stelnicki said Monday.
A main source of disagreement in the last session was a provision in the bill that would have allowed family members, in addition to police, to petition a court to give an order to remove weapons.
Ely, D-Corrales, said Monday that lawmakers were still discussing the details of a new bill with the sheriff’s association.
“Nothing’s been agreed to as far as other changes,” Ely said. “I’m prepared to run it as it is.”
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