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Proposed law would punish unlawful access to a gun by a minor

Everytown for Gun Safety teaches survivors of shootings how to use their stories to advocate for gun control legislation.
Ruby Wallau
The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety says an average of 32 children and teenagers die by gunshot annually in New Mexico

On Friday, legislation that would make it an offense to keep a firearm in such a way that a minor can take it and commit a crime passed a House committee in the legislature.

House Bill 9 is also known as the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act after a 13-year-old boy who died after allegedly being shot by another student, at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque last August, using his father's gun.

Teacher Cheryl Haase is a member of the pressure group Moms Demand Action, which backs the law. She was teaching at Grants Middle School, also in Albuquerque, that day and says the whole community was shaken.

"I went and told the other teachers," she says. "And everybody was just shocked...because Albuquerque, even though it's a city, in a way, it's a small town, especially in the educational community."

She says the shooting will stay with the children. "There were a lot of kids outside that witnessed that," she said. "They will be traumatized for the rest of their lives."

The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety says an average of 33 children and teenagers die by gunshot annually in New Mexico, and that firearms are the leading cause of death in that age group.

Some opponents of the legislation say children should be taught gun safety. Haase disagrees.

"The onus should not be on the children. It needs to be on the adult," she says. "As a teacher and as a mother, we know that children do not always do as we tell them or teach them. They're very curious people."

An amended version of the bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and is set to head to the Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Most states already have some form of what are known as child access prevention laws. RAND Corporation research found that the laws may reduce intentional and unintentional deaths and injuries, and violent crime.

Several lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing legislation amid concerns about high levels of gun violence in New Mexico. Last year, the Department of Health found that the 2020 rate of deaths by firearms was 55% higher than in 2010, with 481 state residents dying due to a gunshot injury. In 2019, the state had the fourth-highest rate of firearms deaths in the nation. On average, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, about two-thirds of such deaths are suicides.

There are numerous proposed bills related to firearms being discussed in the current legislative session. Among them are: House Bill 96, which proposes allocating $10m to violence intervention programs and House Bill 68, which, among other provisions, would create tougher penalties for carrying a weapon near a school and owning a handgun unlawfully.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.