By Daniel J. Chacón
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for a series of gun-control measures in the 60-day legislative session during her State of the State address Tuesday, including a ban on assault weapons and legislation that would allow victims of gun violence to sue firearm manufacturers.
“We all know that we cannot keep our people safe, we can’t keep our police officers and their families safe, if weapons of war continue to flood our neighborhoods,” the governor said during a 49-minute speech delivered in person at the state Capitol for the first time since 2020.
In a speech laden with platitudes and promises on several programs and initiatives that she said could transform New Mexico, the governor vowed to address what she called a “sickening scourge of gun violence” that has infected the nation.
In addition to calling for a ban on assault weapons, Lujan Grisham, whose critics painted her as soft on crime as she sought reelection last year, called for closing a loophole on so-called straw purchases that allow criminals “to exploit the system to get a firearm.” A straw purchase occurs when one person buys a gun for another person. While federal law bans such actions, New Mexico has no such law on the books.
The governor is also backing gun storage legislation to keep weapons out of the hands of children.
“If we are bold and clear in our knowledge that now is the time to do the right thing, we can save lives and protect futures,” she said. “Now I’m determined to succeed — and I know that you know this, I’m pretty relentless. I’m not going to let up.”
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, called the governor courageous and said her group is “deeply grateful” for her list of gun violence prevention priorities.
“We also hope to pass legislation that would raise the age [from 18] to 21 to purchase semi-automatic firearms,” she said.
Lujan Grisham said she would fight “tooth and nail” and challenged lawmakers “to do much, much more to ease the burden of crime being placed on far too many of us every single day in every single corner of the state.”
The governor also said the Legislature “should not relent” from passing pretrial detention legislation to ensure high-risk violent offenders accused of serious crimes stay behind bars. Last year, a measure to give judges more flexibility in detentions failed to get through the Legislature.
“This administration, and I think New Mexicans, want the tools to tackle organized crime and the criminals who fund it through retail and commercial theft,” she said. “We want to smash the syndicates that are terrorizing our businesses and our business communities at large.”
Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said he understands New Mexicans are looking to their elected leaders for solutions to the state’s crime problems.
“Living in the Albuquerque metro area, I get it,” he said in an interview. “People are scared. Crime is completely out of control. Record homicides, so I get it.”
But Harper, who serves as House minority whip, said lawmakers from both sides of the aisle need to work together to address the root causes of crime, such as mental health issues and homelessness, instead of what he called putting Band-Aids on a bigger problem.
“If all we do is pass gun-control legislation, we’re going to be right back here a year from now with the exact same problems,” he said, adding the state should also be enforcing existing gun laws.
“This felon who was shooting up Democrats’ homes, he should not have had a gun,” he said, referring to a string of shootings in Albuquerque targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers.
Developing long-term solutions to the root causes of crime “is harder than just passing a bill that gets you a headline, and that’s what’s going to make a real difference,” Harper said.
Senate Majority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, echoed the sentiment, saying the state needs to enforce laws it already has on the books.
“If we can enforce what we have, we’ll be able to control the problems we have,” he said during a press briefing in which Republicans responded to the governor’s speech.
“We need a criminal justice system that people don’t look to and laugh at, where there’s real consequences for action,” he said. “These are the things we’re not seeing. Those are real answers to crime, not just gun crime, to all crime.”
Sen. Craig Brandt, also a Rio Rancho Republican, said he would oppose any legislation that infringes upon law-abiding citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.
“The problem with all these laws is the only people that are going to obey them are law-abiding citizens,” he said. “Criminals are not going to obey laws. That’s why they’re called criminals.”
Brandt, who serves as Senate minority whip, said he anticipates stiff resistance to all of the governor’s gun-control measures except the safe storage proposal, which he’s still on the fence about.
“I can’t name names, but I believe that there will be opposition, very bipartisan opposition,” he said.
Lujan Grisham’s legislative priorities — funded in part by an additional $3.6 billion in new money — extend beyond tackling crime, though she has unveiled some of her major initiatives in the past, including creating a New Mexico Health Care Authority, free meals for every student in the state and codifying the right to an abortion into state law.
“We do that and we make it clear to practitioners, to women and families, that in every corner of this state, your body autonomy and your health care choice are in fact your own,” she said, referring to codifying abortion rights in state statute, generating loud applause from Democrats.
Other priorities the governor plans to pursue during the 60-day session include:
- $1 billion in economic relief to provide one-time tax rebates of $750 for single filers and $1,500 for joint filers.
- A tax reform package that includes a reduction of the gross receipts tax rate and personal income tax cuts for middle-class New Mexicans.
- $100 million to help people affected by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest wildfire in state history, as they await federal aid.
- 4% raises for teachers, plus full coverage of health care premiums for school personnel.
- $75 million to launch a Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund for programs that protect the environment and address the roots of climate change.
- $200 million to establish a Rural Health Care Delivery Fund.
- $100 million for new housing programs, including down payment assistance and mobile homelessness response teams.
- Extending in-classroom learning time, which is part of a larger effort to boost educational outcomes and close achievement gaps.
- $100 million for police recruitment.
- $128 million in water infrastructure improvements and $146 million for statewide broadband expansion.
A long list of dignitaries attended the governor’s speech, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury.
Lujan Grisham recently underwent total knee replacement surgery but effortlessly walked into the chamber of the House of Representatives while being escorted by her husband, Manny Cordova, whom she refers to as the “First Manny.”