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Townsend takes a third shot at gun measure

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New Mexico House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, sits at a table during the Roswell Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch and Learn Tuesday at The Liberty in Roswell. Townsend said he has sent, for a third time, draft petition language to New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver that would allow for a statewide referendum on whether to overturn a new law mandating background checks for most gun sales in New Mexico. (Alex Ross Photo)

Despite two rejections by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, state Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said he has submitted a third version of draft petition language for a statewide referendum to overturn a controversial new law that requires background checks for private gun sales.

“We resubmitted the petition today for a third time,” Townsend — the New Mexico House Minority Leader — said Friday.

He said that he had fixed a technical objection Toulouse Oliver had with the draft language — that the name of the statute was not written in all capital letters — and resubmitted it.

Toulouse Oliver said in a letter to Townsend dated April 11 that because the law bears a valid and reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health and safety, it is exempted from the referendum process, according to the New Mexico state Constitution.

The original language submitted by Townsend was rejected for the same reason and for technical errors with the format that were later fixed.

Townsend argued in March that it is the courts and not the secretary of state who have the authority to determine if a piece of legislation meets the threshold of being exempt from the referendum process.

In her April 11 letter, Toulouse Oliver said the assertion made by Townsend is incorrect.

Townsend said Friday that he thinks New Mexico voters should decide whether to scrap the law that is set to go into effect July 1.

“I’m a little disturbed that the secretary of state seems to be reluctant to let voters participate in such important decisions,” he said.

Townsend added that he believes the secretary of state’s opinion is politically motivated, a claim that a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office denied Friday.

The law has sparked opposition from 28 county sheriffs in New Mexico who say the law is unenforceable and from gun rights advocates who say the law — which exempts guns handed down through inheritance to family members and antique weapons — would not deter crime but only infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

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