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Waiting period on guns would be small step forward



Change at the New Mexico Legislature usually comes in small steps taken over a long period of time. That’s especially true with gun laws.

The last significant changes came in 2019 with a bill to expand background checks and 2020 with one to allow the courts to file an emergency order temporarily taking guns from those proven to be at risk to themselves or others.

This year, I had high hopes for House Bill 101, which would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. It cleared its first committee fairly early in the process, with a change that would allow current gun owners to keep their weapons.

But it seems that bill may be a step too far this year.

During a recent interview on KTAL-LP community radio, Miranda Viscoli of New Mexicans For the Prevention of Gun Violence expressed both support for the bill and doubt that it will make it through this year. And so, their focus is on other bills.

One of them is Senate Bill 427 sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would require a 14-day waiting period after the initiation of the federal background check before a gun could be transferred.

“That’s a game-changer in terms of suicide prevention and homicide prevention,” Viscoli said, noting that many suicides are impulsive and that 59 percent of all gun deaths in New Mexico are by people taking their own lives. And, many of the homicides are crimes of passion.

Nine states now require waiting periods, including conservative Florida, which was moved to act following the Parkland school shooting in 2018, back when the American public still had some capacity for shock and horror.

A 2017 published in the National Library of Medicine found that waiting periods reduce homicide rates by an average of 17 percent. But, the larger impact is on suicide rates.

A different study published in the American Journal for Public Health found that there was a decrease in the suicide rate in states that had waiting periods, and an increase in the rates for states without them. The combination of both a waiting period and universal background checks proved to be the most effective.

Oftentimes, suicide attempts are cries for help. Those who attempt to take their lives by other methods have a much better chance of having those cries heard than those with access to a gun. 

Another effective way to reduce both suicides and accidental shootings is to require proper gun storage. We don’t have a law covering that, but House Bill 9 would at least hold gun owners responsible if their weapon was used by a minor in a way that would threaten or endanger others. It narrowly passed the House and is now in the Senate.

Opponents argued that keeping guns out of the hands of toddlers would put domestic violence victims in grave danger. And so, you can understand why the prospects for passing an assault weapons ban this session are bleak.

Instead, we get baby steps. Incremental change woefully insufficient to the size and scope of the problem. But, one hopes, progress.

I guess we should be grateful?

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.