Bill would allow concealed weapons in restaurants

By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican

People with licenses to carry concealed guns could take their firearms into restaurants that serve beer and wine under a bill that zipped through a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, cleared the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee by a 7-1 vote. Sen. Linda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, cast the only vote against the measure.

Gov. Bill Richardson sent an executive message to the Senate calling for such a bill to be considered. That’s a necessary step in a 30-day session for bills not directly concerned with finance and budget matters.

Steve Aikens, a firearms instructor from Clovis who teaches courses that are required for concealed carry licenses, told the committee that no holder of such a license in the United States has been charged with shooting a gun in a restaurant since states began passing concealed-carry laws in the mid 1980s.

Aikens, who is founder of a pro-gun Web site www.handgunlaw.us, said when license holders have to leave their guns in their vehicles when they go to get a meal, they are taking a chance of the weapon being stolen and the guns going into the hands of criminals.

Allison Smith, lobbyist for the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said her group is against the bill. She said restaurant owners are concerned about liability issues if guns are allowed. Smith also said they are concerned about what happens if a server brings an alcoholic drink to someone with a concealed gun. Even if the bill is passed, a person with a firearm would not be allowed to consume alcohol.

Munoz pointed out that no restaurant would be forced to allow concealed weapons.

The bill would apply only to establishments that derive at least 60 percent of its income from food eaten on the premises.

A fiscal-impact report for the bill, quoting an analyst from the Public Defender’s Office agrees with Aikens’ point that the bill would reduce the number of guns stolen from cars. But it also quotes an analyst from the Public Safety Department that says the bill might make some concealed-carry license holders believe they have the right to drink alcohol in a restaurant.

Last year, a similar bill by Munoz passed the Senate by a 26-15 vote. The 2009 bill also passed House committees, including the House Judiciary Committee which voted 10-2 for a do-pass recommendation. But the bill never made it to the House floor.

The next stop for Munoz’s current bill is the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com