*Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more info on the bill.
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Following multiple rounds of heated debate, a bill aimed at ensuring responsible gun storage has passed the New Mexico Legislature. Now, to become law, it needs the Governor’s signature.
House Bill 9, also known as ‘Bennie’s Bill,‘ has been a focus of intense debate this session. The bill makes it a crime to negligently store a firearm and allow a child to misuse the weapon.
The bill was born out of concern that children could access and use firearms to harm others. That’s what happened in 2021 when a 13-year-old student shot Bennie Hargrove at Washington Middle School.
“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,” Hargrove’s grandmother Vanessa Sawyerr said in an earlier round of debate over House Bill 9. “Lock the guns up. That’s all we want. Secure them. That’s all we want.”
The bill clarifies that if a minor manages to get ahold of a firearm that’s in a locked container, “kept in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure,” or locked with a safety device to make the gun inoperable, then the individual who stored the gun wouldn’t be in violation of the bill. In other words, the bill pushes gun owners to use things such as gun locks, safes, or other methods to secure their guns.
The bill, sponsored by Democrats, was able to make it through both the House and Senate without many major changes. Late Wednesday, March 8, it received its final legislative approval in the House.
“Far too many young New Mexicans have been lost to senseless gun violence resulting from irresponsibly stored firearms,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Abq.) said in a press release. “Keeping guns out of the reach of children is a simple and smart step we can take to keep children safe in their own homes, at school, and in our communities.”
To become law, the bill needs Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. She has until April 7 to either approve or veto the bill.