Guns, background checks and the urban-rural divide

February 26, 2019

The rise of so-called sanctuary counties opposed to commonsense gun reform is the latest twist in the statewide fight over gun safety legislation in New Mexico. It’s the urban-rural divide played out over weapons.

As the Legislature considers ways to more carefully check the backgrounds of would-be gun purchasers, rural county commissions around New Mexico are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. To that end, county sheriffs are saying they will not enforce laws they deem to be unconstitutional violations of the right to keep and bear arms.

Would that these sheriffs would care so much about the entire Second Amendment, perhaps gathering together the many citizens who are so fond of those guns and rifles. They could begin forming the well-regulated militias that also are a part of the Second Amendment, the portion most people seem to ignore these days.

Remember, here’s the amendment in total: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is not the most literate amendment ever written, lacking the clarity of the First Amendment, to be sure.

However, sheriffs from more than two dozen New Mexico counties believe they can interpret the Second Amendment better than lawmakers and have decided they will no longer enforce gun laws they deem unconstitutional. Of course, any student of the Constitution knows that courts, in our system of government, decide what laws pass muster and what laws do not.

Should Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sign the legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchases — there is a version in both the House and Senate — the sheriffs and commissions should file a lawsuit. We’re sure the National Rifle Association or some other gun group would pay for it.

Twenty-nine sheriffs around the state have said they do not support various gun safety proposals being carried in the Legislature. They should not appoint themselves as judge of laws passed by the Legislature. That’s not how the system is supposed to work.

Yes, cities such as Santa Fe have declared themselves “sanctuaries” in regards to enforcement of federal immigration laws. However, immigration is a federal responsibility, not the job of local police officers. Federal officers can do their jobs; it’s just not the responsibility of a city cop to check immigration status at a traffic stop, for example.

In contrast, county commissions and sheriffs are rejecting potential state laws, the kind that sheriffs — by their oaths of office — swear to enforce and uphold. In addition to a law that would require a background check for private gun sales, other gun safety proposals would seek to keep guns from certain people. One would prohibit a person convicted of various crimes, including battery on a household member, from having a firearm. Another would let relatives or police seek court orders to temporarily remove guns from someone they consider an immediate threat.

And make no mistake, this is not just a New Mexico issue. Some 26 counties in Illinois have passed similar resolutions — rural residents there are upset that city residents have so much influence in their state legislature.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, we are proud to say, is not buying into this disdain for duly passed state laws. He will not be asking Santa Fe County Commission to declare the county a Second Amendment sanctuary. Mendoza demonstrates how a sheriff can support the Second Amendment as well as sensible gun legislation. Would that other sheriffs would show so much sense.