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Legislation to outlaw so-called ghost guns in New Mexico is advancing in the state House of Representatives, over the objection of gun owners who say it would violate both the first and second amendments.
House Bill 166 would make it a fourth-degree felony for anybody other than a licensed firearms dealer to use a three-dimensional printer to make guns or gun parts. It would also make it illegal to distribute instructions on how to use a 3-D printer to manufacture a gun; and to sell, possess or transfer any gun or gun parts made in violation of the law.
Ghost guns are weapons that can be manufactured with a 3-D printer using materials that can pass through metal detectors and that have no serial numbers or registration information.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said ghost guns represent a new threat to public safety that needs to be addressed, noting that New Mexico has the eighth-highest rate of gun deaths in the nation.
“This is an unregulated area, and we’re looking to bring it into the day and age we live in right now,” she said.
“Ghost guns are absolutely intended to be what they are called, ghost guns,” added Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe. “They cannot be detected by metal detectors in public places. This is seeking to keep up with technology that’s ever-changing and protecting our communities.”
But opponents of the bill, who were often difficult to identify in the Zoom format, said the legislation was both unconstitutional and unenforceable. One man asked if they planned to screen all Internet traffic coming in and out of the state like the Chinese government does. A woman asked if they planned to go door to door searching for 3-D printers.
“This bill violates my First Amendment rights because I can’t access information, and it violates my Second Amendment rights because I need permission to possess a gun,” one of the opponents said.
There are, in fact, constitutional questions about the bill, according to the fiscal impact report prepared by legislative staff.
A similar law in New Jersey prohibiting the distribution of digital plans to manufacture guns has been challenged in federal court. And, restrictions on the use of computer-aided design (CAD) files in Washington state have also been challenged.
Republican members of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee said the bill is not needed.
Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she talked to several law enforcement officers about the bill, and none of them had ever seen a ghost gun used in the crimes they were investigating.
“We’ve got multiple laws on the books,” added Rep. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington. “Each of these items are highly regulated.”
The original version of the bill would also have prevented modifications of guns and rifles, but those provisions were removed. The bill passed on a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Feb. 9, and now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee also heard testimony Tuesday on House Bill 193, which would amend the state’s Extreme Risk Firearms Protection Order (red flag gun law) that was passed in 2020. The new bill would give police officers greater authority to seek court orders for temporary confiscation of weapons.
The committee began debate of the bill, but was unable to finish because of the amount of time devoted to HB 166.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.