- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal to restrict firearms in part of the New Mexico Capitol cleared a House committee Wednesday, but a similar proposal failed in a Senate panel.

The House Judiciary Committee endorsed a measure to ban firearms, except by law enforcement officers or people with concealed handgun licenses, in the House chambers, galleries and committee rooms.

The proposal would establish the ban as rule of the House rather than changing state law. It was approved on a 9-8 party-line vote, with Republicans in opposition. The measure goes to another House panel for consideration.

Earlier in the day in a separate meeting, the Senate Rules Committee voted 4-2 against a proposed ban on guns in the Senate chambers and its committee rooms. Only police would have been exempted.

Even if the restrictions were imposed, guns could be carried by private citizens in certain parts of the Capitol, including the rotunda and areas near entrances, as well as outside the building.

New Mexico law allows citizens to carry firearms except in certain places, including schools and courthouses.

Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said he proposed the restrictions after constituents told him they were afraid last year to attend legislative proceedings because gun rights supporters were openly carrying handguns and rifles in the Capitol. Rep. Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe, gave a similar explanation for why he was pushing the restrictions in the House.

“When citizens feel that they can’t participate in the democratic process because you’ve got a roomful of people legally carrying firearms, something is not working,” Wirth said.

A proposal failed last year to expand criminal background checks of people buying firearms at gun shows. Lawmakers also rejected a proposed ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Opponents contended the Capitol is safer because people can carry guns in the building, either with a license for a concealed handgun or openly carrying a firearm.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Carlsbad Republican, said she had received death threats as a legislator.

“There are people who will threaten you because they want you to walk in fear,” she said. “And I have a right, as a woman and as a citizen, to exercise my constitutional right and if I choose to have a firearm, that is my right.”

Currently there are no metal detectors for people entering the Capitol, and several lawmakers said they didn’t want that to become necessary.

“Those people that carry have as much right to this building as anybody else,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

New Mexico and 10 other states allow citizens to bring firearms into their capitols, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, a Milan Democrat and Vietnam veteran, said he grew up with guns, but his staff felt intimidated by those who openly carried firearms in the Capitol last year.

“We did not show off our guns when I was a young man,” said Alcon. “I don’t know why anybody needs to walk around with an automatic rifle in the Capitol.”


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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