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Two gun bills make way through Legislature

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Two controversial gun safety bills passed the New Mexico Legislature this week, irking many House Republicans.

Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which would require that a federal background check for nearly all gun sales within New Mexico passed that Chamber Thursday by a 22 to 20 vote. Area senators Stuart Ingle of Portales, Gay Kernan of Hobbs and Cliff Pirtle of Roswell — and all other Senate Republicans — opposed the bill, along with four Senate Democrats.

The bill now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it into law.

Backers of the bill have said SB 8 — formerly known as House Bill 8 (HB 8) — is a measure to better ensure people who are legally prevented from purchasing a firearm will be prevented from obtaining them.

Republicans in the Legislature though have said the law would only create more obstacles for law-abiding citizens to purchase a gun and exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Pirtle Thursday assailed Democrats for passage of the legislation, describing it as part of an agenda pushed by progressives within the Democratic majority in both chambers that is out of step with rural New Mexico.

“This bill, along with huge tax increases, and abortion up to birth, are an example of their agenda. We will continue to fight for our principles of liberty and our rural culture,” he continued.

SB 8 is the latest of scores of bills making their way through the Legislature during the 60-day session this year.

The vote on SB 8 came a day after the New Mexico House voted on HB 83, which would allow law enforcement or a household family member to petition a district court to temporarily suspend a person’s right to access firearms or ammunition if that individual is found to pose an imminent danger to themselves or other individuals.

All Republicans and six Democrats voted against the proposal.

“This legislation will save lives, and as legislators, we must do everything we can to prevent New Mexicans from senseless gun violence,” said Rep. Damon Ely, D-Corrales, one of the sponsors of the bill, in a Wednesday night press release from House Democrats.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also applauded passage of the legislation.

“We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of New Mexicans, and this important, common sense gun violence prevention measure would undoubtedly save lives. New Mexico leaders have a duty to take action, and I applaud the House for doing so,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release.

The bill next goes to the Senate for consideration.

Thursday night, House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said that he believes the bill is unconstitutional and would enable someone’s firearms and ammunition to be taken without due process.

Other pieces of legislation taken up to address the issue of gun violence include:

• HB 87 would add people convicted of battery against a household member or stalking to the list of people prohibited from receiving, transporting or possessing a firearm or destructive device. It passed the House Feb. 8. It now will go before the Senate Public Affairs Committee for consideration.

• HB 130 would allow for a gun owner to face criminal penalties or be held civilly liable for negligent storage if a gun improperly stored is used by a minor in an act that results in death or injury. It was passed by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and will next go to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The New Mexico Sheriff’s Association has expressed opposition to all the legislation. Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington was among New Mexico sheriffs who signed a letter dated Feb. 5 opposing the bills.

The letter describes the various laws as “ill-conceived” and unenforceable, and states that they would infringe upon the Constitutional rights of people who are not criminals. The letter also states provisions already exist in state law that allow for the issues raised in some of the bills to be addressed.

Thursday night, hours after HB 8 passed, Herrington said he will not enforce the gun laws because he believes they are unconstitutional.

At least four counties in New Mexico have staked out similar ground. County commissions in Curry, Quay, Socorro and Union counties have passed resolutions to become Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties, vowing not to appropriate county funding or manpower or other resources to enforce laws they say are violations of the Second Amendment.

A similar resolution will be up for discussion at next Thursday’s meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, and Tuesday at a meeting of Eddy County’s Board of Commissioners, according to agendas for each of the meetings.

House Republicans in two press releases in recent days have applauded counties for approving such resolutions.

“We see counties starting to fight back against the over-reach of House Democrats,” said Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, in one of the releases.

“New Mexicans who are not even accused of a crime can lose their Second Amendment rights under this bill and that’s beyond wrong. This is not my New Mexico,” he continued.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.