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N.M. Senate passes background checks on private gun sales

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N.M. Senate passes background checks on private gun sales

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Proposed legislation to expand background checks to nearly all private gun sales in New Mexico cleared its last major hurdle with approval from the state Senate on Thursday.The 22-20 Senate vote highlighted a marked shift in the politics of firearms regulation in a state with a strong culture of gun ownership. It took place on the anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Earlier in the day, gunfire inside a high school in suburban Rio Rancho on the outskirts of Albuquerque resulted in no injuries. But the incident sent shockwaves through the community as thousands of students were evacuated and a 16-year-old student was charged with attempting to commit murder and carrying a deadly weapon on school grounds.

Leading Democrats in the Legislature and newly inaugurated Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are pushing for a slate of gun-control and school safety reforms that include bills to make it easier to take guns from people flagged as perpetrators of domestic violence or who appear suicidal or bent on violence.

With Thursday’s vote, the House and Senate have approved similar background-check bills and still must agree on one to send to the governor.

The Senate-approved bill would close a loophole that currently allows gun sales without a background check between individuals who are not licensed dealers at gun shows or through websites. Checks against a federal database are designed to weed out prohibited buyers such as convicted felons and people with severe mental disorders.

“This is a first step and an important step in our public safety enhancement efforts,” Lujan Grisham said in a written message to the Senate on Thursday. “I respect and value the innumerable responsible gun-owners across New Mexico. … But I will not abide inaction when innocent lives are at stake.”

Bill amendments were made to exempt sales between immediate family members including aunts, uncles and first cousins. Democratic Senate majority leader and bill sponsor Peter Wirth said background checks would be waived when guns are inherited, loaned or given away.

Republicans in the legislative minority have pushed in unison this year against the advance of proposed state gun regulations, so far to little avail. During three hours of debate on Thursday, GOP state senators characterized the background-check bill as ill-conceived and cast doubt on background check exemptions for guns transferred among family members or borrowed briefly on hunting expeditions.

“This bill is unenforceable,” said Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho on the Senate floor Thursday. “How would you know if I transferred my weapon?”

A coalition of rural sheriffs urged lawmakers to vote the bill down in a letter that invoked 2nd Amendment protections and said “the rush to react to the violence by implementing controls on guns is ill conceived.”

Bill co-sponsor Richard Martinez of Espanola, a former magistrate judge, said online gun sales pose a safety threat. “I’m here as someone who supports the 2nd Amendment but we must update our laws to address buying guns online,” he said.

Four Democratic senators broke ranks with their partisan colleagues to vote against the measure: John Arthur Smith of Deming, George Munoz of Gallup, Gabriel Ramos of Silver City and Clemente Sanchez of Grants.

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