By Kent Thurber
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A handful of rural counties in New Mexico are passing resolutions saying they will not require their sheriffs to enforce a sweeping slate of gun-control proposals that have gone before state lawmakers.
The “Second Amendment Sanctuary County” resolutions are being presented by sheriffs to commissioners in dozens of counties, according to the head of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association.
So far, commissioners in at least four counties situated in some of the most remote pockets of New Mexico have passed the resolutions in the past week, Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace said. He expects more county commissions to be presented with similar resolutions at their upcoming meetings, he said.
The resolutions represent the sheriffs’ latest attempt at pushing back against legislation supported by Gov. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office in January, after the lawmen expressed opposition to the bills for weeks in legislative committee hearings, arguing they are unconstitutional.
“The key thing to remember is this is all a burden on responsible gun owners,” Mace said. “We’re here to protect people’s individual rights.”
The New Mexico proposals include a bill that would expand requirements for background checks on private gun sales. Another measure would allow for courts to order people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns to law enforcement.
The background-check initiative has cleared both chambers of the Democrat-led Legislature, and a Senate vote still is pending on a bill that would make it easier to take guns from people deemed suicidal or bent on violence.
The counties that this week declared themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries” include Quay, Union and Curry counties in eastern New Mexico, and Socorro County, situated in the middle of the state and about an hour’s drive south of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city.
Mace said he expects commissioners will weigh the resolution next week in Cibola County, where he is sheriff. The county dotted by small towns amid mountains, mesas and open desert is on the western side of the state.
The New Mexico sheriffs’ push for the resolutions is inspired by a similar effort in Washington state, Mace said. A dozen sheriffs there are refusing to enforce new restrictions on semi-automatic rifles until the courts decide whether they are constitutional — a move that prompted a warning from the state’s attorney general.
The voter-approved Washington law raises the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, requires buyers to pass a firearms safety course, and adds expanded background checks and gun storage requirements.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an open letter to law enforcement this week that law enforcement officers could potentially be held responsible if they don’t perform expanded background checks under the new voter-approved laws and then someone who should not have a weapon buys one and uses it in a crime.
A spokesman for the attorney general in New Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the county resolutions in his state.
In an email, Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said the “commonsense firearm safety measures” would not infringe on New Mexicans’ constitutional rights.
“These resolutions mark an expression of opinion, and that’s fine,” Stelnicki said. “State law will be followed.”
In New Mexico, the gun-control bills mirror measures that have become laws in numerous other states, following tragedies both in the state and elsewhere that include the school shooting Valentine’s Day, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was the deadliest high school shooting in the nation’s history, killing 14 students and three staff members.
In New Mexico, both a deadly shooting at New Mexico’s Aztec High School in December 2017 and an episode just on Thursday at a Rio Rancho high school in which police say a student fired a handgun in a hallway are fueling arguments for the legislation among Democratic lawmakers in Santa Fe. No one was harmed in the shooting at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, a suburb of Albuquerque.