SANTA FE, New Mexico – While a 15-year-old New Mexico boy faces charges of murdering five family members with his father's gun, state lawmakers are weighing two measures that show just how divided the state is on firearms.
One measure would require background checks for all gun sales, while another would allow concealed weapons to be carried into bars and restaurants. And lawmakers on both sides of the issue say they will not be swayed by the alleged actions of Nehemiah Griego, who is accused of killing his mother, father and three siblings on Jan. 19 in their Albuquerque home. Former state Sen. Eric Griego, the boy's uncle, said he and his murdered brother disagreed about gun control. But he said the shootings are not part of the legislative debate.
"To be clear, our family has differing views on gun rights and gun control," Eric Griego said in a statement. "What we do agree on is that those who wish to score political points should not use a confused, misguided 15-year old boy to make their case."
State Rep. Zach Cook, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would allow licensed owners to carry concealed handguns into restaurants and liquor establishments. Although he dropped language that would have extended the conceal-and-carry law to schools and hotels, he said the real threat comes from "the sick element of society" that uses guns irresponsibly. Asked how the Griego tragedy might affect the legislative session, Cook predicted poignant discussions but little effect on lawmakers' votes.
"I don't think the deal in Albuquerque will change anyone's minds," Cook said.
The young suspect told police he was plagued by homicidal and suicidal thoughts prior to shooting his mother, three siblings ranging in age from 2 to 9, and then lying in wait to kill his father with Greg Griego's assault rifle. Police say he also had planned to go to an area Walmart and shoot innocent people until police gunned him down, but that phase of his plan was thwarted when a family friend learned of the killings and alerted police.
Nehemiah's father, Greg Griego, was an active minister in the Albuquerque community who helped the youth and served his church. But he also was a former gang member who kept at least four guns in the home that were not kept locked or secured, according to sources. A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department said there was no indication of felony convictions that would have precluded Griego from possessing weapons.
The other measure being considered by New Mexico lawmakers is one sponsored by Democrat Rep. Miguel Garcia, of Bernalillo County, the same county where the family massacre occurred. Like Cook, Garcia says he is concerned with the mental health of gun owners, but his bill calls for mandatory checks into the mental health and criminal backgrounds of potential buyers at gun shows and private purchases. Felons, fugitives and the mentally ill would not be able to legally purchase guns.
Nehemiah Griego is awaiting a grand jury in Albuquerque District Court, where prosecutors plan to try him as an adult.