Home News Local News Referendum on new gun law blocked again

Referendum on new gun law blocked again

New Mexico House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, sits at a table during the Roswell Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch and Learn April 11. Townsend’s request for a referendum was turned down Monday to put a measure on the ballot to overturn a controversial gun law was turned down for the third time by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. (File Photo)

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New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has for a third time denied a request to allow a state referendum on a new law requiring federal background checks for most gun sales.

Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said in a letter Monday to House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, that she would not certify his third attempt at draft language for a petition that would be used to gather signatures in order to get a measure on the ballot to repeal Senate Bill 8 (SB 8).

SB 8 requires that a federal firearms background check be conducted for nearly all private gun sales within the state of New Mexico that are conducted for a fee or other consideration. Firearms given as gifts or passed down to family members through inheritance, antique firearms and sales of firearms between two law enforcement officers would be exempt from the law.

In her letter Monday, Toulouse Oliver said because the law “bears a valid reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health and safety, she could not certify the language — a necessary step to allow the referendum process to move forward.

“After a careful and thorough review of your second amended draft petition, I have determined that it also does not satisfy each mandated legal element. Therefore, I am unable to approve and certify the petition for circulation,” Toulouse Oliver wrote in the letter.

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Toulouse Oliver said in the letter that she had consulted with the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General on reaching her decision.

Townsend confirmed late Monday that he received the letter from Toulouse Oliver. He said that he had sent it to a few members of his legal team who are helping with the referendum for their review and consideration.

He said he would not comment further until he had a chance talk with his legal team about their next step. Townsend has previously said he would not rule out taking the matter to court.

Toulouse Oliver rejected two previous drafts of petition language submitted by Townsend, saying each draft failed to meet certain stylistic and formatting requirements.

She also argued that because the law “bears a valid, reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health or safety” the state constitution exempts it from being overturned through the referendum process. She has cited comments made by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and lawmakers backing the bill, to back up her conclusion.

Townsend, in his two previous versions, fixed the petition language to conform with the requirements, but Toulouse Oliver said she maintains that because the legislation requiring background checks was meant to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, the law cannot be repealed through a referendum.

Townsend has said it is up to the courts to decide if a law has a reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health or safety, and not the New Mexico Secretary of State. He has said that the Secretary’s role is only to make sure the petition language meets the formatting standards.

SB 8 passed both chambers of the state Legislature and was signed into law by Lujan Grisham earlier this year.

The law though has been a source of controversy. Most of the 33 county sheriffs in New Mexico — including Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington — have said the law is unenforceable because police officers and deputies do not have access to the database used by federal firearms dealers to conduct background checks.

Herrington, others in law enforcement and firearms enthusiasts also have said they worry the law will not deter crime, and will only serve to hamper law-abiding citizens from exercising their Constitutional rights to keep and bear arms.

County Commissions in more than 20 counties including Chaves County have expressed their opposition to SB 8 by passing resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties.

A resolution, passed 5 to 0 by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, affirms support for the right to keep arms and states that the commissioners will not authorize the use of any county personnel, funds or resources to enforce any law that conflicts with that right.

The Roswell City Council passed a similar resolution, declaring itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary City.

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

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