Bill would sue parents for allowing children access to firearms | Local News

The August shooting death of a 13-year-old Albuquerque boy by one of his classmates prompted a bill before the Legislature to hold gun owners accountable if their guns fall into the hands of children.

The Bennie Hargrove gun safety law, named after the student killed in the shooting at his downtown Albuquerque school, would make it illegal for a gun owner to allow a minor to gain unauthorized access to his weapon.

The bill does not specify how a firearm should be stored, but does indicate that gun owners could be fined $1,000 for storing a weapon in such a way as to allow a minor to have unauthorized access. If the child used the gun to commit a crime, the owner could also be convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

The owner of an illegally stored firearm used by a minor to cause grievous bodily harm or death could also be prosecuted under other laws – such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor or manslaughter – without violating dual criminality laws, according to a bill introduced to lawmakers this week.

Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teens in New Mexico, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit formed by mayors against illegal guns and moms demanding action for the sense of firearms. The group’s website says 33 children and teens die by firearm each year in the state.

Rep. Pamelya Herndon, sponsor of the bill, said New Mexico is one of the few states that doesn’t already have a gun storage law, so they’re not accessible to children.

“Our mantra has been, ‘Your weapon, your responsibility,'” Herndon, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent phone interview. “So if you decide to own a gun, that’s fine. You can have as many weapons as you want. Our goal is simply to make sure you are responsible with the gun.

Hargrove, an eighth grader, was fatally shot at Washington Middle School by another student, Juan Saucedo Jr., also 13, according to published reports. Saucedo Jr. allegedly used a gun belonging to his father, Juan Saucedo Sr. The boy was charged with first degree murder in the case.

Juan Saucedo Sr. also has a history of using firearms on school property. According to multiple reports, he shot a man in the hand and thigh during an altercation in a pickup line at Highland High School in 2018, but the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office did not charge him , noting that the men involved in the incident had potential. self-defense claims.

Hargrove’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Albuquerque Public Schools, the college and its principal in November, saying officials were aware of ongoing tensions between the two boys but did nothing to intervene.

Saucedo’s parents are also named defendants in a civil complaint, but not in a criminal proceeding. Juan Saucedo Sr. could not be reached for comment Friday. Luz Saucedo, the boy’s mother, declined to comment.

Hargrove’s grandmother, Vanessa Sawyer, said Thursday she was “shocked” to find Saucedo’s parents would not be held responsible for allowing their son access to the gun.

Hargrove allegedly tried to stop Saucedo Jr. from continuing to bully the other kids at school when he was shot.

“It feels like there’s no justice,” Sawyer said. “It’s not fair to the family or the person who was injured or shot.

“It doesn’t just surprise you; it hurts that the justice system lets you down,” she added. “I can’t even describe what it feels like.”

The House Consumer Affairs and Public Affairs Committee introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee in a narrow 3-2 vote on Thursday, but several committee members raised concerns that it was confusing as written and duplicated existing laws regarding child endangerment.

“We don’t need to add laws just to add laws,” said Rep. Randall T. Pettigrew, R-Lovington, adding that he opposes the bill on every level.

Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, voted to move the bill to the next committee, but said “understanding how badly it needs to be revised” she’d like to work with the bill’s sponsors – Herndon and Sen. Ivey Soto, D-Albuquerque – “to continue to make these changes.”

“I appreciate where he’s headed,” she said.

Of the 37 members of the public interviewed at the committee hearing on Thursday, 23 said they were in favor of the bill and

14 said they were against it.

A representative of the National Rifle Association spoke against the bill and in favor of more education. Albuquerque Police Department senior policy adviser and former U.S. attorney Damon Martinez spoke in favor of the bill.

In 2020, 40% of New Mexico households had at least one firearm in the household, with 64% of those guns kept loaded and 21% loaded and unlocked, according to the state health and safety data book. social services 2022.

According to the Health and Human Services report, statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that New Mexico had a gun death rate of 14.5 per 100,000 in 2009, about four points higher than the national average of 10.1 per 100,000. The rate has increased steadily over the past decade, reaching 22.3 in 2019, while the national average remained relatively stable and was 11.9 per the same year.

The Hargrove shooting was one of at least 42 acts of gun violence on school campuses during regular hours in 2021, according to a December report in the Washington Postwho said the number had broken the previous record of 30 acts in a year.

“An estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with at least one unlocked and loaded gun – and most children know where those guns are kept,” according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a national children’s advocacy group. non-profit.

About 75% of children aged 5 to 14 who live with gun-owning parents know where guns are stored, and more than 20% of them have handled a gun at home at home. without their parents’ knowledge, according to the group’s website.

An Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor recently made headlines when he charged the parents of a 15-year-old boy who fatally shot four people and injured seven others at his high school with manslaughter. Their son is accused of shooting a gun his parents bought him.

But such lawsuits against parents are rare.

“I would like people to support the bill because it’s important to help stop this nonsense,” Hargrove’s grandmother said. “Maybe if people were held accountable it would slow down some of this gun violence.”

Sawyer said passing the bill would bring some comfort to the family.

“It would make sure he didn’t die in vain,” she added.