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Some counties exempting sheriffs from any new gun control laws

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. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office in January, after the law enforcement officers 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 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 is pending on a bill that would make it easier to take guns from people deemed suicidal or bent on violence.

The counties that declared themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries” last week include Quay, Union and Curry counties in eastern New Mexico, and Socorro County, situated in the middle of the state.

Mace said he expects commissioners will weigh the resolution this 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 Washington law, which was approved by voters, raises the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, requires buyers to pass a firearms safety course, and expands background checks and gun storage requirements.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an open letter to law enforcement last week that officers might be held responsible if they don’t perform expanded background checks under the new laws and 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 Lujan Grisham, 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 several other states, following tragedies including shooting on Valentine’s Day, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, killing 14 students and three staff members.

In New Mexico, a deadly shooting at Aztec High School in December 2017 and an episode on Thursday at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho 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 Cleveland High.