Juvenile misuse of firearms may become the adult gun owner’s responsibility. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act into law March 14. The law, commonly referred to as Bennie’s Bill, requires gun owners to keep their firearms safely stored and out of the hands of minors.
Only days before the governor signed the bill, an incident involving a group of juveniles who were shooting without parental supervision in Largo Canyon sent one juvenile to the hospital. On March 5, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office was called to San Juan Regional Medical Center to investigate the shooting.
At the hospital, law enforcement encountered a Bloomfield juvenile who had been shot in the leg. The juvenile was out with friends reportedly hunting in Largo Canyon.
The only animal that can legally be hunted with a license during March is the oryx, according to New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The department also stated in its annual hunting guide that young hunters between the ages of 10 and 17 may apply for a license to hunt deer, pronghorn, turkey, javelina and small game, but they must “hunt under the supervision of an adult mentor.”
According to the police report, the injured juvenile was in the back seat of a truck, and a second juvenile was seated behind the driver. The second juvenile had a .223 AR-15 in his lap and “was attempting to put the magazine into the rifle when the gun fired.” The bullet entered the leg of the juvenile in the back seat.
The shooter reportedly told police that he had the charging handle in the rear locked position and his finger was not on the trigger, but when he attempted to put the magazine in, “the charging handle went forward and the gun fired,” the police report stated.
Lane Jordan, volunteer firefighter with Bloomfield Fire Department, was in the canyon at the time and rendered aid. Jordan then transported the juvenile to the hospital, where the juvenile’s mother met them and law enforcement.
According to the police report, the Sheriff’s Office chose not to file charges because the shooting was accidental.
Five days after the Largo Canyon shooting incident on March 10, the Farmington Police Department was called to a home in the 1400 block of Camina Contenta. According to the police report, about 11 p.m. several juveniles were shooting firearms without adult supervision at the home. Police investigated and found 19 spent shell casings in the front yard.
The police reported stated that after further investigation and permission from the homeowner, officers “searched the residence and located the firearms that were discharged on the property.” The guns were found with the belongings of one of the juveniles. The juveniles involved were cited in Municipal Court for negligent use of a deadly weapon.
Under the new law, similar incidents could lead to the gun owner being charged with either a misdemeanor or a fourth-degree felony.
A gun owner may charged with a misdemeanor if “the person keeps or stores a firearm in a manner that negligently disregards a minor’s ability to access the firearm” and if the minor “displays or brandishes the firearm in a threatening manner or causes injury to the minor or another person not resulting in great bodily harm or death.”
A gun owner may charged with a fourth-degree felony if the person “keeps or stores a firearm in a manner that negligently disregards a minor’s ability to access the firearm” and “a minor accesses the firearm and uses it in a manner that causes great bodily harm to or death of the minor or another person.”
Lujan Grisham supported the bill.
“New Mexico is making it clear that responsible gun ownership is the law of the land. This bill is about keeping New Mexicans safe by requiring gun owners to take reasonable steps to secure their weapons – plain and simple,” she said.
“Unsafe firearm storage is a threat to New Mexico’s public safety, to our public health, to the bright futures within each youth,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart. “Bennie’s Bill codifies what most gun owners already practice, the responsible storage of firearms which protect their children, their families, and their community from immeasurable tragedy.”
Bennie Hargrove, 13, was shot and killed in August 2021 in the parking lot of Albuquerque’s Washington Middle School. Police say Juan Saucedo Jr. shot Hargrove after the young man confronted him for bullying other students.
“No family should have to go through what Bennie Hargrove’s family experienced. This bill is about taking commonsense steps to protect our kids from gun violence and tragic accidents,” Rep. Pamelya Herndon said. “I am so grateful to the survivors who have championed this bill and to everyone who helped honor Bennie’s legacy by getting this bill across the finish line.”