Senate panel, on party-line vote, approves bill increasing minimum age to buy high-powered guns

Senate panel, on party-line vote, approves bill increasing minimum age to buy high-powered guns

A row of AR-15-style rifles is displayed at a gun store in Burbank, California, in this June 2022 file photo. A bill that would make it a crime in New Mexico for individuals under the age of 21 to possess such high-powered firearms to buy or own, acquitted his first select Senate committee on a party-line vote Monday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SANTA FE – A push to raise the minimum age to buy certain firearms from 18 to 21 cleared its first Senate hurdle Monday, after a heated committee hearing in which supporters cited recent mass shootings and opponents raised concerns about law-abiding gun owners which is being prosecuted.

The bill, Senate Bill 116, is one of several gun-related bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers during this year’s 60-day legislative session.

Specifically, the measure would make it a felony in New Mexico for individuals under the age of 21 to purchase or possess AR-15-style rifles — and other similar automatic and semiautomatic weapons — though it would make some exceptions. offers, including shooting on a firing range and attending a gun safety class.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said New Mexico already prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from buying semi-automatic handguns, describing it as a “contradiction” in state law.

“Ultimately, this is not a bill to take guns away from people,” Hamblen said, describing the intent of the bill to instead set parameters on gun ownership.

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But critics were not convinced.

Tiffany Rivera, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, said firearms play an essential role in many rural New Mexicans’ lives, adding that many residents now carry firearms to defend themselves and their animals.

A representative of the National Rifle Association also spoke against the bill, saying New Mexico’s gun violence rate increased after state lawmakers passed a 2019 bill expanding background check requirements for firearms purchases.

“You make criminals out of law-abiding citizens,” said sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, added. “You don’t stop the gun violence.”

However, the bill was eventually approved by the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans in opposition.

Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, predicted that the bill would be upheld as constitutional if challenged.

“I think it hits a really good, reasonable spot that balances individual liberties and public safety,” Maestas said.

New Mexico’s gun death rate is among the nation’s highest, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called on lawmakers to pass additional gun safety measures during this year’s session.

A total of 562 state residents died from firearm-related injuries in 2021 — up significantly from 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020, according to state Department of Health data. Of that amount, more than half – or 319 cases – were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as murders.

The measure now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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