SANTA FE, N.M. — State legislative elections and big spending by a gun-safety group are thrusting New Mexico into the national tussle over access to firearms and whether current restrictions and background checks are sufficient to stem violence.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national organization advocating for universal background checks on firearm purchases, made several recent contributions to Democrat-aligned political committees in the state, including a $100,000 donation to Patriot Majority New Mexico, according to campaign finance disclosures filed this week.
Patriot Majority New Mexico is a Washington-based super PAC that channels unlimited contributions, frequently from labor groups, to political efforts in New Mexico under rules that prohibit direct coordination with parties or candidates.
The focus of Everytown’s new effort is to support champions of gun safety in the state’s Legislature, Everytown spokeswoman Mackey Reed said. The entire New Mexico Legislature is up for election in November.
Amid gridlock on federal gun-control measures, the advocacy group steered by media mogul and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it is also spending heavily this year to influence firearms-safety ballot initiatives in Maine, Nevada and Washington as well as legislative races in more than 20 states.
In New Mexico, Everytown has made additional contributions to several state lawmakers, including the Democratic Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez of Belen and Republican House majority leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque.
National and local advocates for new firearms restrictions regard New Mexico as fertile ground for bipartisan reforms and have placed a priority on closing loopholes to ensure background checks against federal databases for firearms transactions at gun shows and for unlicensed online sellers.
“We expect and encourage bipartisan support on the issue,” Everytown spokeswoman Mackey Reed said. “The New Mexico statistics are pretty staggering in terms of gun violence.”
Seven states had more firearm-related deaths per capita than New Mexico in 2014, according to the latest comparison from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. The New Mexico Department of Health says firearms related deaths increased to 405 in 2015, up from 349 the previous year.
Since early September, the National Rifle Association has contributed to the campaign funds of at least eight Republican lawmakers and legislative candidates in New Mexico. A spokeswoman for the NRA declined further comment on the group’s legislative efforts in the state.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of the policy group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, which does not make political contributions, hopes lawmakers next year will consider strengthening laws to keep firearms from people cited for domestic violence while they are under restraining orders. A similar measure in 2015 stalled in the Senate.
Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, said the gun restrictions backed by Everytown face long odds in the state House of Representatives — a reflection of the strong culture of gun ownership across broad swaths of the state.
“They sure like the freedom of owning their guns and passing them on to family members. It’s a fairly sacred right,” Strickler said. “I think Bloomberg’s initiatives will have a tough sell.”
He said a recent $250 donation from the NRA to his campaign against Democratic challenger Kenneth Robinson would not sway his future votes on legislation.
Volunteers for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an affiliate of Everytown, have been canvassing by phone a handful of legislative districts overlapping Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces in support of candidates seen as sympathetic to gun-safety measures.
“I’m really glad that some money is being spent to challenge the gun lobby,” said Cheryl Haase, a middle school teacher who hosts weekly phone-bank session at her Albuquerque home.
New Mexico enacted a law earlier this year that brings the state into compliance with federal requirements for adding people with severe mental problems to a federal database used to restrict firearms purchases.