In an interview, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday she will again pursue an assault weapons ban and age restrictions for purchasing firearms — ideas that failed to reach her desk in this year’s 60-day legislative session.

Leading Democratic legislators, meanwhile, said they are working on bills to establish a 14-day waiting period, expose the sellers of illegal gun modifications to lawsuits and create a registry of people who already own assault weapons.

Police say the suspect in this week’s mass shooting purchased a gun legally after turning 18, and they described one of the firearms used in the attack as an “AR-style rifle.” Authorities said they are also looking into indications the shooter had mental health issues.

Lujan Grisham said she had been in touch with Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett and said she planned to travel to the town for a vigil Wednesday honoring the lives of those who were killed.

She also said she might visit with family members of the victims and the suspected shooter, saying such meetings could help with the state’s grieving process.

The Democratic governor also said she would keep pursuing ways to reduce gun violence in New Mexico, but said the issue is complex and does not have a quick-fix solution.

“I want to be able to go to Farmington and say this will never happen again,” Lujan Grisham told the Journal. “But I don’t know of a tool that prevents all tragedies.”

“If there was one thing that would cure it, it would already be done,” she added.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett speaks during a news conference at the Farmington Civic Center on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Jon Austria/Albuquerque Journal)

The governor, who said the state would announce a new initiative next week aimed at curbing gun trafficking, also said she did not plan to call a special legislative session that would result in partisan “finger-pointing.”

However, she left the door open to such action if lawmakers can reach a consensus on contentious crime and gun-related proposals, saying, “I would call a special session … if we could pass something that could be implemented in a timely manner.”

New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest, despite the enactment in recent years of laws extending background check requirements for gun purchases and allowing firearms to be temporarily seized from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others.

A total of 562 state residents died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries — up significantly from 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020, according to state Department of Health data.

Of that number, more than half — or 319 cases — were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides.

What’s been debated in New Mexico Legislature?

Proposals to ban assault weapons have faced skepticism in the Legislature, even among some Democrats. Much of the opposition has centered on how to define what would qualify as an assault weapon and whether a ban would withstand legal scrutiny.

But other ideas advanced steadily through the Legislature this year, only to die at adjournment, when time ran out.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, expressed optimism Tuesday about the prospects for imposing a 14-day waiting period on gun sales, allowing authorities extra time to complete a background check on the buyer. He is also eager to renew his push to amend the state Unfair Practices Act to target online sellers of illegal gun modifications.

“I’m hoping my colleagues won’t forget the events in Farmington this week when we meet again,” Cervantes said in an interview.

State Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, said she, too, is working on waiting-period legislation. She is also revising a previous proposal to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons.

The new version of the bill, she said, would be modeled on the semiautomatic weapons ban passed in Illinois and establish a registry for people who already own such guns.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Romero said of this week’s shooting. “As we heal from all of this, it’s ‘what can we do next?’ — that’s where my mindset is.”

Republican lawmakers — heavily outnumbered by Democrats at the Capitol — said progressive lawmakers should focus on meaningful funding for mental health services, not “anti-gun rhetoric.”

“One of the root causes of the crime epidemic sweeping this progressive state is the fact that little has been done to address mental health access and delivery despite the billions in surplus tax revenue over the 5 years of Lujan Grisham’s tenure,” House Republican spokesman Matt Garcia-Sierra said in a written statement.

New Mexicans, he said, “are seeking action that addresses the root causes, not just political spin that looks good on a postcard or newspaper headline.”

Moving forward

While lawmakers this year approved a bill making it a crime for adults to fail to safely secure firearms out of the reach of children, that measure would apparently not be applicable to the Farmington shooter case since the deceased suspect legally purchased at least one of the guns he used, according to police.

And it’s unclear whether the proposals debated during this year’s 60-day legislative session to impose a two-week waiting period for firearm purchases and prohibit the sale and possession of certain semiautomatic rifles and handguns would have made a difference in the Farmington shooting.

But Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said the young age of the shooting suspect in Farmington underscores the need to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles — a proposal she intends to reintroduce.

“We will continue to pursue legislation that is about responsible gun ownership,” she said.

Many of this year’s gun safety bills encountered fierce resistance from Republican lawmakers and other opponents who said they would interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter crime.

Cervantes, a lawyer who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers must take care to craft gun laws that will withstand legal scrutiny.

“It’s not ever enough to pass a law that makes good press and allows us to pat one another on the back, but really has no meaningful impact,” he said.