Governor signs law to allow guns in some liquor-serving restaurants

By Barry Massey: The Associated Press

SANTA FE — People licensed for concealed handguns can take their weapons into New Mexico restaurants serving beer and wine under a new state law.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation into law on Wednesday. It takes effect in July.

However, restaurants can stop people from bringing their handguns into an eatery by posting a sign that prohibits firearms or if the restaurant’s owner or manager tells a patron that firearms aren’t allowed.

Even with the change in law, it will remain illegal to take a concealed weapon into a bar or a restaurant with a full liquor license — places that serve whiskey and other liquor besides wine and beer.

New Mexico becomes the 41st state to allow the carrying of concealed handguns into at least some restaurants that serve alcohol, according to the National Rifle Association. Only Wisconsin, Illinois and the District of Columbia completely prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns.

The Legislature approved the handgun measure during a 30-day session, which ended last month.

“This is a victory for self-defense rights and for law-abiding residents in New Mexico,” Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said in a statement.

Supporters also had said during the session that people were having their handguns stolen when they had to leave them in a vehicle to go into a restaurant.

“As the governor of a Western state, I know well the deep feelings that come with such a measure, but I also understand those feelings and beliefs must be tempered by the enactment of certain safeguards,” Richardson said in a statement.

In 2003, the Democratic governor signed a measure allowing New Mexicans to obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

During the legislative session, opponents contended it’s potentially dangerous to mix alcohol and guns.

To address that concern, Richardson ordered the Department of Public Safety to change its licensing regulations for concealed handguns to prohibit people from drinking alcohol while carrying their concealed weapon. The governor also urged the Legislature to make that prohibition a part of state law in the future. The governor’s term ends this year, however.

Faced with a Wednesday deadline for acting on bills passed by the Legislature, Richardson signed bills to:

• Improve the academic performance of Hispanic students, who score lower in reading and math than their white and Asian counterparts and have a lower graduation rate. The Hispanic Education Act establishes a liaison within the state Public Education Department to focus on Hispanic students and help implement a plan for closing the achievement gap and improving graduation rates. The new law, which takes effect in July, also creates an advisory council and requires the department to prepare a yearly report on Hispanic education from preschool through high school.

• Cancel stalled capital improvement projects to free up $141 million to help replenish the state’s cash reserves, which been drained because of recent budget shortfalls. Richardson vetoed portions of the bill to keep alive some projects that he said were “shovel ready” or had started to move forward.

The governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed a one-year delay for schools to submit data to the Public Education Department on whether they are complying with Title IX laws for equal sports access for girls and boys. The department was to use the information in preparing a yearly report on gender equity in athletics in public schools.