NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A bill that would hold adults accountable if a minor uses their gun to hurt or threaten someone, is likely to become law. However, will it do enough to keep guns out of children’s hands?
It was a shocking case that shook Washington Middle School and people all across Albuquerque when 13-year-old Juan Saucedo Jr. brought his dad’s gun to school and shot and killed his classmate, Bennie Hargrove. That tragic 2021 case prompted lawmakers to bring forward House Bill 9, nicknamed “Bennies Bill.”
The idea is to punish parents if their kids get ahold of their guns and commit crimes. “If this bill had been in place at the time that his son was engaged in the shooting, he would’ve been charged under it,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Pamelya Herndon (D-Bernalillo County).
The original version of the bill required guns to be locked up. After working its way through the roundhouse, the bill now states guns must be “kept in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure.” That definition of “reasonable” would be up to a district attorney, then ultimately a jury.
According to the Albuquerque Police Department, Juan Saucedo Senior’s gun was on a shelf in his bedroom closet when his son took it. So, if Bennies Bill becomes law, would it apply to someone like Saucedo Senior?
“That’s something we did not have at the time. We did not have a law like this directed to this specific activity. We were dealing with statutes that were more broadly written,” says Chief Deputy Attorney General, James Grayson.
Grayson, who was with the District Attorney’s office at the time, said there was not enough evidence to bring an existing charge against Saucedo, but “Bennies Bill” could make it easier to make charges stick. “With the statutes, we had to work with at the time, child abuse specifically that requires a mental state of a reckless disregard, there simply was not proof of that mental state for the parents in that case,” said Grayson.
While New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence hoped to see the original version pass, they said they still support anything that moves the needle toward better gun safety. “It definitely clears up that situation where now that it sets a path where that parent will be charged or that gun owner will be charged,” said Co-President of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, Miranda Viscoli.
The senate passed the bill on Friday, Mar. 3. Now, the bill heads back to the house to approve changes on the senate side. If passed, it will go to the governor’s desk.