A “ghost gun” bill in the New Mexico legislature that would make building your own firearms illegal has passed its first committee test over the objections of the vast majority of public commenters and even one state agency.
HB 166, introduced by State Representative Tara L. Lujan of Santa Fe, would have originally made the building of any gun or gun components a state felony unless the builder is a federally licensed dealer. The bill was so broadly written that it would have made even the assembly of a firearm a crime, even if the gun owner had purchased a receiver from an FFL. Even worse, it appeared to ban repairs and even cleaning guns without a federal license.
This is what happens when people who know nothing about firearms write gun control legislation.
At the last minute, however, Lujan put forward a substitute bill that she claims limits its scope to only receivers and reduces the penalty to a misdemeanor, but The Truth About Guns and the public was not given the text of the substitute bill at the time of the hearing or before this post was written.
For politicians and others new to firearms, receivers are usually the serialized part of a firearm that must be transferred via an FFL in New Mexico, as a law closing the alleged gun show loophole passed in 2019.
If the substitute bill does as Lujan promised, it would still prevent lawful home gunbuilding without the involvement of an FFL. For this reason, it was opposed by 80% of the people who attended the committee’s Zoom meeting, according to an in-app poll conducted by the committee’s chair.
Public comments opposing the bill ranged from concerns about infringement of First and Second Amendment protected rights to concerns that the legislation was unnecessarily divisive and would affect Democrats’ ability to pass other legislation during New Mexico’s legislative session. A common point brought up in public comments was that a ban on home-built firearms would be largely unenforceable, especially with 3D printing technology’s proliferation and increasing sophistication.
One of the objecting speakers was a representative from the Law Offices of the Public Defender, a state agency tasked with providing legal representation for defendants in New Mexico who can’t afford a lawyer. Their concerns were that the bill would criminalize behavior based on the past of a gun and not the intentions of the person owning or handling it, and that such a law would make for more expenses and problems in their office.
In support of the bill, Lujan had two “expert witnesses” and a couple dozen members of the public speak. Her first expert was a woman from…Moms Demand Action.
She told a story of unintentionally pointing a gun at her own head as a child, and some members of the public seemed to genuinely believe that a law could stop criminals from using a 3D printer to make a “ghost gun” at home.
Despite the significant opposition and the inability to explain how the bill’s provisions would make New Mexico safer, the three Democratic members of the committee voted to approve the bill. HB 166 will next be considered by the House Judiciary, Appropriations and Finance Committees.
It’s never wise to take a politician’s word for anything. Their promises are rarely worth the electrons they’re broadcast on. Since we still don’t have a copy of the revised bill, we can’t be certain that the revised bill doesn’t prohibit far more than Representative Lujan claims. Given the utterly reckless scope of her first version of the bill, caution is definitely advised.
If Lujan is correct and the scope of her bill has been reduced to cover only the serialized part of a firearm, this is still an egregious violation of constitutionally protected rights. Americans have been building their own firearms at home for hundreds of years, and the emergence of technologies that make that easier doesn’t justify changing that.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill would do nothing to improve public safety if it were to become law. A criminal isn’t going to stop building weapons just because the government (which they already ignore) prohibits it. The only people who would be affected are law-abiding citizens.
There are two kinds of laws: malum prohibitum (things that are bad only because the government says so) and malum in se (things that are bad because they are truly evil and harm others). The more malum prohibitum crimes there are on the books, the less respect people will have for the law.
The only thing that bad bills like HB 166 accomplish is erode government legitimacy in the eyes of good people. In the long run, that sort of erosion and rot can bring a society to collapse.