Police, sheriffs address concerns over enforcing gun bill
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A bill to expand background checks on private gun sales in New Mexico that’s awaiting the governor’s promised signature is presenting a key question for law enforcement as it heads for her desk: How do they expect to enforce it?
Debate over the bill exposed a rift in the state over gun rights before it won final approval in the Legislature this week and was sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has described it as common-sense reform.
Most sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the law, arguing it burdens lawful gun owners and will be difficult to enforce. That’s because a gun most likely would have to be used in a crime before law enforcement could investigate whether it had been purchased unlawfully, according to the bill’s opponents.
But others, including Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, say the measure will provide a public safety tool. For example, he said officers could follow up on complaints that felons or others restricted from owning firearms are obtaining them.
Dona Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart said the measure offers deputies the ability to ask gun owners they encounter how they obtained a gun, just as they are now able to ask motorists if they are licensed to drive. It also offers private gun dealers increased opportunity to determine that they are not selling to a felon.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask them to do this one thing,” she said.
The bill is the first of a handful of proposed gun reforms this year to clear the Legislature, despite outcry from dozens of sheriffs and others that the law may infringe on state residents’ gun rights.
In an interview, University of New Mexico law professor Joshua Kastenberg said the law is “constitutionally sound,” but that he sees both those for and against the measure having compelling arguments.
“It’s more a political policy debate,” he said.
The bill’s passage sets New Mexico on track to become one of more than 20 states to enact similar legislation for at least some restrictions on private firearms sales, according to the Brady Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for expanding gun control laws nationwide. The private sales have been known to stem in part from transactions online and at gun shows.
Federal law requires background checks on sales by federally licensed gun dealers.
New Mexico’s law exempts background check requirements for antique weapons, sales between certain relatives and the lending of guns at sport shooting clubs.
Shaun Willoughby, the president of Albuquerque’s police union, criticized it for failing to outline how law enforcement officers would be expected to enforce it or address that criminals often obtain guns through car and home break ins.
He also said he was disappointed that it did not come with any funding for police, saying officers have been stretched thin in their duties to enforce laws already on the books due to understaffing.
“I think it’s feel-good legislation,” he said. “It carries an unrealistic expectation to the public of how our police officers are going to enforce this legislation.”
Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace said he believes the bill violates his constituents’ rights.
As president of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association, he organized a push for the county law enforcement officials to present draft resolutions to their commissioners declaring their jurisdictions Second Amendment sanctuaries. He said 26 out of 33 New Mexico counties have approved the resolutions.
They prevent officials from spending money or using staff to enforce gun laws sheriffs believe are unconstitutional, saying that would break their oaths.
New Mexico elected officials generally take oaths pledging to uphold both constitutions, as well as state laws.