ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico is a state that does not have a law to hold gun owners responsible when a minor gets a hold of one of their firearms. More than half of all states have a Child Access Prevention law to hold gun owners accountable if their firearms are stored unsafely, but New Mexico is not one of them. State lawmakers have tried to pass a so-called ‘gun storage’ law at least four times in the past six years.
A law like this could bring criminal charges against a gun owner for failing to store their firearms in a safe manner. It’s an idea fresh on people’s minds again in the wake of the deadly shooting at Washington Middle School last week.
“Every couple of years, we’ve tried new legislation to try to make Albuquerque more responsible when it comes to owning guns,” said City Councilor Pat Davis. “It’s just disappointing and frustrating that we’ve tried this at the state legislature, we’ve tried this at the city council, and we continue to see these cases where somebody, whether it’s a kid or a bad guy, gets their hand on a gun they shouldn’t have had access to in the first place and there’s [sic] tragic results.”
Davis tried to approve such legislation last fall for responsible firearm storage, but it failed in a 6-3 vote. State legislators keep trying – most recently back in January – but have failed every time.
Police say the suspect in Friday’s school shooting, 13-year-old Juan Saucedo Jr. brought the gun from home where it belonged to his dad. That man, Juan Saucedo Sr, was accused in a 2018 shooting in the pick-up line outside Highland High School.
“I think the more we know about this particular case, it involves a family that’s used guns in the past to resolve other situations,” said Davis. “I think it scares us a little bit about what that kid might have learned from that situation.”
Bernalillo Co. District Attorney Raul Torrez says these laws could help with more straightforward charges. Instead, they’ve had to use flexible charges like child abuse and endangerment against adults when a kid gets their hands on a gun.
“There have been a number of legislative initiatives that have examined whether or not we can create criminal liability for failure to secure a weapon and being able to have a child access it,” said Torrez. “Unfortunately, those initiatives haven’t gotten very far in the legislature and I hope they get renewed focus.”
On Monday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham touched on Friday’s shooting. She suggested gun safety laws could be tackled next January.
“We’ll treat gun violence as an epidemic. I think you should expect to see a robust crime package that will be supported on the governor’s call in the next 30-day session,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “I think this is going to be a legislative session where that becomes a cornerstone of the work that we get done early.”
When asked if it’s time to locally pass a law regarding safe gun storage, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller issued the following statement:
“While the state constitution does not let cities regulate guns, we support common sense gun safety practices that keep firearms out of the hands of violent offenders and away from vulnerable children. Gun owners have a responsibility to take proper measures to secure their weapons, so that tragedies like the one that occurred at Washington Middle School don’t happen. No matter how you feel about broader gun issues, it is extremely important that guns are not accessible to children. Whether secured through a gun lock or a gun safe, those weapons should not be accessible, in any way, to a child. We’ll continue to work together to encourage gun safety, intervene early to break cycles of violence, and look out for one another by reporting suspicious activity in our communities.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office also issued a statement:
“Crime and criminal justice are absolutely among the topics that the governor is interested in pursuing early next year, and not solely limited to firearms, though certainly gun violence is of great concern and has been underscored by recent events. The governor is certainly keeping an open mind for the 2021 session – she has some idea she plans on discussing with legislative leadership, as well as some that she has raised already, and we’re optimistic that some of those will gain consensus as we move towards the session.”
Albuquerque’s City Council is meeting Monday evening. While Councilor Davis says Friday’s shooting will likely be a discussion, a new city council bill may not be brought up again until after November’s election.