This is a tale of two hearings at the Roundhouse: House Bill 44, which required background checks for all purchasers of firearms at gun shows; and HB 189, which loosens requirements for gun safety for concealed weapons permits.
The hearings I attended were a microcosm of the dangers our democracy faces. They demonstrated what paralyzes politics in New Mexico and the nation because of Republican partisan gridlock and the ownership of representatives by Big Money. The NRA is at the top of the list in terms of the reach of their power and dollars. That power extends to the New Mexico Department of Public Health.
In New Mexico these problems are exacerbated by a system of unpaid legislators and thinly staffed offices, which leave legislators vulnerable to accepting bills crafted by right-wing think-tanks like ALEC and the NRA (who are partners in crime).
HB44 was heard and killed by the (so-called) Committee on Public Safety. Rep Garcia, the bill’s sponsor, had as his expert witness Dr. Jim Webster, a member of New Mexicans for Gun Safety. Dr. Webster’s testimony cited pertinent statistics, including that New Mexico ranks 9th in the nation for the highest number of gun deaths per year, and that the 16 states that require background checks have much lower numbers of gun deaths. He showed hard data that background checks save lives. Not one member of the House committee commented on or asked questions about his testimony.
The opposition contended that the bill would do nothing to prevent gun violence because criminals mostly use knives to kill; that it would criminalize responsible gun owners; that it is a violation of the 2nd amendment and would lead to a national registry. Not a shred of evidence was provided for any of these claims.
The hearing on HB189 was even more disturbing. The representative who sponsored it had his expert witness do most of the talking. His witness owns a gun range that provides training and certification for gun owners. He incorrectly asserted that the refresher course was a waste of time because all gun owners have to do is shoot off 25 rounds of ammo from their guns. He claimed their certification was sent to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) only to be thrown away. The representative from DPS claimed they were “neutral” about the bill.
When the representative of the Dept. of Public Health (DPH) got up to speak, he repeatedly apologized to the committee for the analysis and data that his department put on the House website, which provided evidence for why the bill was problematic. Yet, this data correlated with information provided by the FBI and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). I was told by the Chair that the representative from DPH had shown these statistics were invalid!
I was so outraged that I called the DPH and spoke to the public relations officer. She told me that that the DPH analysis and data were “correct” or they wouldn’t have posted it. When I told her what her representative said, she replied that he recanted because their analysis had no “relevance” for the bill. Someone had clearly “gotten” to the DPH and told them to publically apologize to the House Committee.
If this is the level of penetration that the NRA lobby has achieved in New Mexico, what hope is there for us to find through government action the means to enhance the health and safety of the citizens of our state? We will have to turn to citizen action for redress of our grievances.