Bill to ban guns at polling places in New Mexico passes Senate committee

Bill to ban guns at polling places in New Mexico passes Senate committee

Several gun control proposals are gaining momentum in the New Mexico Capitol.

SANTA FE, N.M. – Several gun control proposals are gaining momentum in the State Capitol. On Tuesday, one of them crossed the halfway point. Now, it’s a few votes away from the governor’s desk.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth’s proposal is pretty simple, it would ban guns inside all polling places across New Mexico and within 100-feet of the main entrance. That would be on Election Day and during early voting periods.

Wirth has repeatedly said guns are already banned at polling places inside schools, and that his bill is just extending those restrictions to all polling locations.

He believes they should be on the same level and says some poll workers in his district specifically asked for this after dealing with guns at polling locations during previous elections.

On Tuesday, the full Senate debated the proposal. Wirth started by listing off all the changes he’s already made, including exceptions for people walking by polling places, allowing voters to leave guns in their car, and adding specific language about off-duty law enforcement officers.

Still, Republican lawmakers tried amending the bill so it’s only in effect in the most populated counties, and adding exceptions for concealed carry holders.

Wirth and other Democrats argued that would defeat the purpose of the bill.

“There’s a different kind of intimidation when guns are in a polling place,” said Wirth. “This bill really is about leveling the playing field, equal treatment regardless of where you vote.”

Some Republican lawmakers admitted Wirth’s proposal does fall in line with a recent US Supreme Court ruling allowing gun restrictions in sensitive places. However, they argued the proposal would still significantly impact a certain group of voters.

“This bill, whether it’s intended to or not, any common sense person knowing anything about modern America, and modern New Mexico just knows, this will disproportionately disenfranchise Republican gun owners that are genuinely and reasonably concerned about going into a gun free zone, or taking their children into a gun free zone,” said state Sen. Gregg Schmedes. 

The Senate eventually approved the proposal on a 26-16 vote, and it was not down party lines. Democratic state Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill voted with Republicans against the proposal.

The bill now heads to the House, where it will go through the entire committee process again.

This is just one of the governor’s gun safety initiatives this year, three more could cross the halfway point soon. For example, bills calling for a 14-day waiting period for gun sales, proposed changes to the red flag law, and the Firearm Industry Accountability Act. 

The bills were all sent to the House floor, but it’s not clear when we could see those debates.

A proposal to raise the age to purchase guns to 21, and a proposed assault weapons ban, have both cleared their first hurdles and are scheduled for a House committee Wednesday.

If approved, they would also be heading to the House floor. 

It’s worth noting that a Senate version of the 14-day waiting period is also one committee away from a floor vote.

Wednesday is effectively the halfway point of the session, so the clock is ticking on these proposals.