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Critics of New Mexico gun law renew call for referendum

April 3, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Critics are reviving their challenge of a new gun control measure by trying to put the issue on a ballot for voters to decide.

Opponents have filed an amended petition with New Mexico’s top election regulator that seeks a statewide referendum. The secretary of state’s office had rejected a previous attempt, saying the law to expand background checks to nearly all private gun sales was designed to improve public safety and therefore is exempt from petition referendums.

House Republican leader James Townsend of Artesia disputes that, saying in a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver that only the courts can make such a determination.

“Neither the secretary of state nor the attorney general has the authority to unilaterally determine if a given piece of legislation meets the public peace, health and safety standard described by the New Mexico Constitution,” he wrote.

The secretary of state’s office, he continued, has a duty to ensure that the petitioning process is correctly followed and that any petition put before the public conforms to the format required by the state constitution.

“New Mexicans are constitutionally permitted to decide by referendum their choice on this consequential legislation,” he wrote.

The agency is reviewing Townsend’s new request to determine if it meets the constitution’s technical and legal requirements for a public referendum, spokesman Alex Curtas said Wednesday. State statutes and current case law also are being weighed, he said.

The agency has 10 days to respond.

The petition process has lengthy requirements that include the collection of about 70,000 signatures from 25 counties.

Townsend and others contend the law signed last month by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham infringes on the Second Amendment.

It was one of several legislative proposals aimed at restricting gun possession that generated backlash from county sheriffs and others who argued the measures would be difficult to enforce and do little to address gun violence. Those sentiments were amplified as many county commissions passed so-called Second Amendment sanctuary ordinances in support of sheriffs.

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