SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A year and a half after the murder of 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove at Washington Middle School, lawmakers are debating ‘Bennie’s Bill.’ The bill would punish adults who let their guns get in to the hands of children in their home.
Thursday, Bennie Hargrove’s grandmother Vanessa Sawyerr took to the state capitol to voice her support for House Bill 9.
“I took my baby to school that morning and he never came home. That makes no sense…that another 13-year-old had a gun,” Sawyerr said, “Lock the guns up. That’s all we want. Secure them. That’s all we want. So, this bill needs to pass. So people can be held accountable for being negligent.”
The Democrat-backed bill passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4 to 2 vote and the House Judiciary Committee on a 7 to 4 vote. It says a person does not violate the law if the firearm is kept in a locked container or ‘kept in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure.’
The debate on the House Floor was contentious Thursday. Republicans argue the bill is too vague as to what constitutes negligence. “We see a tragic incident happen. I’m glad that they are few and far between. But for us to legislate how the rest of the responsible citizens of the state must act because of an irresponsible person is not good policy,” said Representative Bill Rehm, (R-Albuquerque).
Representative Pamelya Herndon (D-Albuqurque) continuously defended her bill, saying it is purely about keeping guns out of the hands of children and it would be up to prosecutors to look at the situation and decide if charges are warranted.
The House voted to pass the bill 37 to 32. It now goes on to Senate Committees.
Under the proposed law, if a child gets a negligently stored gun and hurts or kills someone it is a fourth-degree felony and punishable by up to a year and a half behind bars. If they don’t hurt anyone, it’s a misdemeanor.
The father of the 13-year-old charged with Bennie Hargrove’s murder was never charged. Police say Juan Saucedo, Jr. used his father’s gun. In an analysis of Bennie’s Bill, defense attorneys argue prosecutors can already use the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in cases where parents negligently store their guns. Herndon said Thursday on the House Floor: this gives prosecutors another tool.