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Gun Control Advocates Say Penalty Bill Won’t Help

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Target shooting in Belen, N.M.

New Mexico has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the U.S. There’s no waiting period to buy a firearm, and there aren’t any state laws restricting what kinds of guns people can own. It is llegal for someone convicted of a felony to have one here, and legislators are working to increase the penalty. But that may not be the kind of law gun-control advocates are looking for. 

Lawmakers rolled several measures into one anti-crime package, and it passed the House last week on a nearly unanimous vote. It includes a push to increase the sentence for people who’ve been convicted of violent felony offenses and are caught with a firearm.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, supports the bipartisan package overall. But she said research shows that bumping up this possession penalty isn’t going to help anything. "Look, if a felon knows that they’re not supposed to be possessing a firearm and they can go to prison for it, they’re not going to say 'Oh, now that I’ll be in prison for 18 more months, I’m not going to buy that firearm.' It’s just not going to happen," she said. "It just makes it look like we’re passing gun violence prevention laws when we’re really not." 

Viscoli said the measure also risks over-incarcerating young men of color. There are a lot of gun control reforms she would like to see, but if she were to pick just one, she said it’s requiring a background check for every gun purchase.

The anti-crime package is heading to Senate committees.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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