Increases in gun violence in American cities and the prevalence of mass shootings throughout the nation continue to raise questions about gun control laws in America. In 2023, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took the unusual step of declaring a public health emergency in the state due to gun violence.
The emergency order came after three child-related gun fatalities occurred in a matter of weeks. The Governor's administration issued public health orders that temporarily suspended open and concealed carry of firearms in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Gun rights proponents challenged her orders in court. The Governor later amended her orders.
States face a difficult challenge as they try to balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the needs of public safety. Finding consensus on gun regulations is difficult in political times where issues can become polarized overnight.
A discussion of gun laws begins with federal law. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of citizens to bear arms for lawful purposes such as self-defense.
In recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has emphasized that the right to own and carry guns in public is an individual right. It requires courts to view any laws that burden the right to bear arms through a historical test. First, the court examines whether the conduct falls under the plain text of the amendment's protections. Next, the court must determine if the government can show that the regulation aligns with the historical regulation of firearms.
Federal firearms law comes from Congress' role in regulating interstate commerce. As a result, it set up a framework for taxing and issuing licenses for the legal manufacture, sale, possession, and use of certain dangerous firearms.
Federal firearms dealers must run a criminal background check on anyone purchasing a firearm from their business. Federal law created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to assist law enforcement in keeping guns from those who are banned under the law. This includes convicted felons, those addicted to and using illegal drugs, and others.
Gun Control Laws in New Mexico
New Mexico residents must comply with federal firearms law as well as state firearms laws. State gun control laws restrict the sale, ownership, and use of firearms, and vary from state to state.
While it's true that the Second Amendment protects the right to own guns, states can pass their own regulations. State laws may restrict who can purchase and possess guns, the carrying of firearms, and, in some cases, what kinds of weapons and accessories are legal to own.
New Mexico gun laws fall in the middle of the pack. The state has certain laws praised by gun control advocates, including a requirement that private gun sales must go through a licensed dealer for a criminal background check. Residents must also obtain a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed handgun on foot.
New Mexico also supports the rights of gun owners. The state does not ban assault weapons and there is no state-imposed waiting period to purchase a gun.
New Mexico Gun Statutes
Gun laws in New Mexico include licensing provisions related to the concealed carry of handguns and prohibitions on the possession and carrying of firearms. In 2020, the state also enacted a red flag law allowing law enforcement to seek court orders against persons who become a threat to themselves or others with access to a gun.
As a Western state, the open carry of loaded or unloaded firearms in public is legal. New Mexico law regulates the concealed carry of a loaded handgun. The law requires citizens to have a state-issued license to carry a concealed loaded handgun in public. In the view of the state, in public means away from your own home, real property, or motor vehicle.
New Mexico residents apply for a license through the Department of Public Safety (DPS). This can occur through a local law enforcement agency. They must submit two sets of fingerprints and a certified copy of a certificate of completion from a DPS-approved firearms safety course of at least 15 hours in duration.
New Mexico is a "shall issue" state. If applicants meet all objective eligibility criteria and pass a criminal background check, they will be issued a concealed handgun license. Permit holders with questions about reciprocity in neighboring states can check the DPS website for updated information.
As in other states, carry laws remain subject to location restrictions. State and federal law may limit where an otherwise law-abiding citizen can take a firearm. In New Mexico, prohibited locations for firearms include:
- Public schools and their premises
- Licensed liquor establishments
- University premises
- Adult correctional facilities, prisons, and jails
- Juvenile correctional facilities
- Private property when notice is provided
- Tribal land unless authorized by the governing body
Most of these restricted areas come with exceptions for law enforcement officers. There may be other exceptions based on authorization provided by the owner or controller of the property.
New Mexico Gun Control Laws
Relevant Statutes (Laws)
New Mexico Statutes Annotated (N.M.S.A.)
Chapter 29, Law Enforcement, Article 19, Concealed Handgun Carry, Sections 29-19-1 through 29-19-15
Chapter 30, Criminal Offenses, Article 7, Weapons and Explosives, Sections 30-7-1 through 30-7-22
New Mexico does not prohibit specific types of firearms. However, it may be illegal to possess certain firearms such as machine guns, bump stocks, and sawed-off shotguns unless registered in compliance with federal law.
New Mexico does not require a waiting period for purchasing a gun.
Who May Not Own
Anyone less than 19 years of age cannot possess a handgun in New Mexico, with limited exceptions. There is no minimum age for possession of rifles or shotguns, although hunting under age 18 will require a training certificate.
A person cannot possess any firearm in New Mexico if they:
- Are a convicted felon and it is within 10 years since they completed sentence or probation
- Are a person subject to a qualifying domestic violence protection order in New Mexico or another state
- Are a person convicted of battery against a household member, criminal damage to property of a household member, a first offense of stalking, or federal firearm offenses (See 18 USC Section 922g)
No. New Mexico does not require a license to own a gun.
Concealed Carry License Required?
Yes. Carrying a concealed loaded handgun in public is prohibited unless a person has a valid concealed handgun license.
Open Carried Allowed?
New Mexico has no specific prohibitions against open carry. However, there are location restrictions in state and federal law.
Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License
To be eligible for a New Mexico concealed handgun license (CHL), you must:
- Be a citizen of the United States
- Be a resident of New Mexico or a member of the armed forces whose permanent duty station is located in New Mexico or a dependent of such a member
- Be 21 years old or older
- Not be a fugitive from justice
- Not be convicted of a felony offense
- Not be under indictment for a felony offense
- Not be otherwise prohibited by federal law or the law of any other jurisdiction from purchasing or possessing a firearm
- Not have been adjudicated mentally incompetent or committed to a mental institution
- Not be addicted to alcohol or controlled substances
- Have satisfactorily completed a firearms training course approved by the department for the category and the largest caliber of handgun that the applicant wants to be licensed to carry
New Mexico will deny a concealed handgun license to an applicant who has:
- Received a conditional discharge, a diversion, or a deferment, or has been convicted of, pled guilty to, or entered a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor offense involving a crime of violence within the last 10 years
- Been convicted of misdemeanor driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs offense within the last five years
- Been convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving the possession or abuse of a controlled substance within the last 10 years
- Been convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving assault, battery, or battery against a household member
Machine Gun Laws
New Mexico law does not prohibit machine gun possession. However, federal law places restrictions on and requires the registration of machine guns.
Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession
- Unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. If the offender qualifies as a serious violent felon, the penalty increases to six years in prison.
- Unlawful purchase or transfer of a firearm to another is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
- Unlawful carrying of a firearm in a licensed liquor establishment is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
- Negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor can be a misdemeanor or a fourth-degree felony if it results in great bodily harm or death.
- Unlawful possession of a firearm when subject to a protection order or after conviction of domestic violence, stalking, or based on federal law is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
- Unlawful carrying weapons onto a bus is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
- Unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under 19 years old is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
- Unlawful sale of a firearm without a background check is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
- Negligent use of a deadly weapon is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
- Unlawful carrying of a firearm on university premises is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
- Unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds
Unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Red Flag Law?
|Yes. A law enforcement officer can file a petition for an extreme risk firearm protection order in district court. They must have probable cause that a person poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others while having access to a firearm. (See N.M.S.A. Sections 40-17-1 to 40-17-13.)
Universal Background Checks?
Stand Your Ground Law?
|Although New Mexico does not have a Stand Your Ground law, its caselaw on self-defense provides that there is no duty to retreat when confronted by an attack that poses an imminent risk of serious bodily harm or death before responding with deadly force.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.
Research the Law
Facing Gun Crime Charges in New Mexico? Speak With an Attorney
It can be hard to know where to turn if you are facing gun crime charges. Likewise, navigating the gun laws of your home state and those of states nearby can be a daunting task. An experienced defense attorney in your area can help you protect or defend your rights in the state of New Mexico.