AP NEWS

New Mexico sheriffs’ gun laws protest follows other states

March 2, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — As New Mexico legislators consider gun-control measures, numerous sheriffs have said they will not enforce gun laws they determine unconstitutional. But the governor says the sheriffs do not have the legal standing to refuse to enforce laws.

More than 20 county commissions out of 33 in New Mexico have passed sheriff-backed resolutions expressing support for the law enforcement officials in deciding not to enforce gun laws they determine unconstitutional. The state legislation under review in Santa Fe includes a proposal to expand required background checks on private person-to-person gun sales.

The sheriffs and their supporters say the bills infringe upon gun-owners’ rights and are unenforceable, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, disputes.

She pushed back on Twitter this week, asserting the legislation is constitutional. She also indicated the sheriffs do not have standing in their refusal to enforce reforms if they become law.

“If they don’t like certain laws, their remedy is the legal system, not a public tantrum that undermines public confidence in law enforcement,” Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said of the sheriffs in an email after the governor posted her tweets.

Here is a look at the legislation, sheriffs’ resolutions and similar resistance to gun-control proposals elsewhere:

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LEGISLATION

Democratic lawmakers, who control both the House and Senate, largely see an opportunity to pass several measures following Lujan’s election, including the proposal to expand required background checks on private person-to-person gun sales — except those between relatives, including aunts, uncles and cousins. Another bill proposes allowing for courts to order people deemed threatening to themselves or others to temporarily surrender their guns.

The background checks legislation is facing final review in the House.

Similar measures have passed in other states. Another bill would ban gun possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.

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SHERIFFS’ RESOLUTIONS

Sheriffs began presenting the draft resolutions for “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” to their county commissioners more than two weeks ago.

The resolutions overall say officials would violate their oaths of office by enforcing a state law in violation of the U.S. or state constitution. New Mexico elected officials generally take oaths pledging to uphold both constitutions and state laws.

The resolutions also prohibit officials from spending money or using staff to enforce the laws.

Wayne Johnson — manager of Torrance County, where commissioners approved a resolution this week — says that means deputies could be directed not to spend time on bringing charges stemming from the gun-control statutes.

Counties with jails also could potentially decline to book suspects arrested on the charges by state or local police in their detention centers, he said.

Officials in rural counties where the resolutions have passed say they took action with overwhelming support from constituents.

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SHERIFFS NATIONWIDE

Gun-control proposals in other states have often sparked outcry from sheriffs.

Six years ago, Colorado sheriffs joined a lawsuit in protest of two gun-control laws. One restricted the size of ammunition magazines. Another expanded background checks on firearms purchases.

A federal judge found the laws didn’t infringe on the Second Amendment. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later vacated that decision by finding the sheriffs and others had no standing to file the lawsuit in the first place because they faced no threat of prosecution as a result of the new laws.

The appeals court’s jurisdiction includes New Mexico.

Dave Kopel, an attorney and research director at the Denver-based Independence Institute who represented the Colorado sheriffs in their lawsuit, said that in addition to the lawsuit multiple sheriffs decided to use their discretion in allocating resources to enforce the law. They have not faced challenges from the state to enforce the laws, he said.

In Washington state, more than a dozen sheriffs are refusing to enforce voter-approved restrictions on semi-automatic rifles until the courts decide whether they are constitutional. The move drew warning from the state’s attorney general.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said only he believes local officials should “comply with state and federal law,” without elaborating.