SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — People licensed to carry a concealed handgun could bring their loaded weapons into a New Mexico state park under a proposal by Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.
It's among several administrative rule changes suggested by the State Parks Division, which is soliciting public comments on the proposals at a public hearing Oct. 17 in Santa Fe.
Park visitors currently are prohibited by agency regulation from having loaded firearms, including concealed handguns, except during hunting seasons and within park areas where hunting is allowed. It's permissible in a state park, however, to have concealed handguns and other firearms that are unloaded.
State statutes do not prohibit a concealed handgun in a state park.
Toby Velasquez, the agency's chief of law enforcement and boating safety boating, said the proposed change will bring park regulations into compliance with New Mexico law that allows licensed people to carry concealed handguns except in certain places, including courts, schools and bars.
"It was very evident to us that our rule was outdated," Velasquez said. "It made sense and it was the right thing to do."
The proposal also reflects a change in policy in national parks. Since 2010, national parks have allowed visitors with a valid state permit to carry a concealed handgun.
New Mexico has issued about 24,300 concealed handgun licenses since 2004, including the governor. It allows permits for residents who are 21 or older, are U.S. citizens and meet other requirements, including completion of a firearms training course, fingerprinting and a criminal background check.
New Mexico also honors concealed handgun permits issued by 19 states, and those individual could have their weapons in a state park under the proposed regulation.
Rep. Zach Cook, a Ruidoso Republican, backs the proposed change for state parks.
"There's no prohibition in the statute so I don't know why the agency felt the need to regulate it in state parks. So I am glad they're changing it," Cook said Tuesday.
He introduced legislation last year that would have allowed people with a concealed handgun license to take their weapons into state parks, schools, preschools, bars, on college campuses and buses. The measure died in a House committee after being revised to only allow concealed handguns in state parks. Cook unsuccessfully pushed a similar proposal for state parks in this year's legislative session.
The agency's proposed regulation would prohibit the firing of a concealed handgun except in "self-defense, defense of another person or defense of a dwelling or habitation."
New Mexico operates a network of nearly three dozen state parks, many of them at lakes.
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