For the Journal
As gun laws make their way through the state Legislature, 14 county commissions around the state – including those from Sandoval and Valencia counties – have passed resolutions declaring their county to be a “Second Amendment sanctuary county.”
The sanctuary resolution says a commission supports its sheriff in any decisions not to enforce unconstitutional laws and not to use any county resources to enforce laws that infringe on the right to bear arms.
It is likely to be passed in even more counties at meetings in the coming weeks.
But even though its sheriff has thrown his support behind the movement, Bernalillo County doesn’t appear likely to be one of them.
“I will be very surprised if any commissioner proposes that type of resolution for Bernalillo County,” said Commission Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins. “At one point or another I believe all of us have expressed support for common-sense gun safety legislation that is being considered in Santa Fe. I can speak only for myself but I believe the commissioners all support what’s being proposed in Santa Fe.”
Hart Stebbins commented on the resolution after Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales issued a statement Friday saying he “confidently supports” a Second Amendment sanctuary county.
Ultimately the decision will be made by the County Commission, he said.
Among the gun safety legislation that has been introduced is a bill that would expand requirements for background checks on private gun sales. Another would prohibit an individual convicted of battery on a household member – among other crimes – from having a firearm. And yet another would allow family members or police to seek court orders to temporarily take guns away from an individual they believe to be an immediate threat.
“As your sheriff, I believe there are enough laws on the books to effectively deal with the unlawful possession and use of firearms by any kind of perpetrator,” Gonzales wrote. “I will back any legislation that mandates a consistent, swift and appropriate penalty for any illegal possession or use of a gun. I do not support, aid nor condone any effort or legislation that will infringe upon the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms.”
Gonzales was not one of the 29 sheriffs who initially joined opposition to the firearm legislation, said Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, the chairman of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association.
“When you look at the 29 sheriffs that oppose it, they’re all rural New Mexico sheriffs,” Mace said. “The ones that stayed on the fence were Santa Fe County, which is heavily populated … Doña Ana County, same thing, and Bernalillo County, which is the heaviest populated county in the whole state.”
In response to questions about what made Gonzales join the opposition, BCSO spokeswoman Felicia Maggard wrote, “As the sheriff of the most populated county in the state, Sheriff Gonzales has taken great care to make informed and educated decisions on behalf of the citizens of Bernalillo County.”
In front of an audience of nearly 150 residents Wednesday night, Valencia County commissioners approved the nonbinding resolution declaring the county a Second Amendment “sanctuary county.”
Dozens of residents offered their opinions, with the majority favoring sanctuary status. It was sponsored by Republican Commissioner David Hyder.
The resolution, like many others approved across the state in recent weeks, supports the recently elected sheriff, Denise Vigil, a Democrat, in her decision not to enforce laws she deems unconstitutional, said Valencia County Attorney Adren Nance.
“This is a general policy statement, not a law,” Nance said.
The proposed legislation under consideration at the Roundhouse is a threat to and in direct conflict with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, said lifelong Valencia County resident Ron Romero.
“I doubt any reasonable person would disagree there is too much gun violence. These new laws only serve to temporarily satisfy a group of individuals who think the solution is pass another law,” Romero said.
He called the proposed bills “part of a larger effort to reduce and erode the Second Amendment.”
Bob Draszkiewick, on the other hand, implored the commissioners to seek legal counsel before declaring Valencia County a “gun sanctuary.”
“If Valencia County becomes a gun sanctuary and one more citizen loses a loved one because Valencia County did not abide by state gun laws, then these citizens have the right to bring a civil suit against Valencia County,” Draszkiewick said, noting that he and his wife were gun owners themselves.
Calling the resolution “somewhat symbolic,” County Commissioner Charles Eaton was the only commissioner to vote against the declaration.
“It somewhat sets policy in place. I think we are sending the message to our chief law enforcement officer to not enforce certain laws,” Eaton said. “Don’t read me wrong: I am a gun owner … and understand the Second Amendment and want to protect the rights of the citizens. But whenever we’re telling our (sheriff) to not enforce laws, whether we agree or disagree, is a dangerous precedent.”
Commissioner Hyder countered that if the bills were signed into law by the governor, the sheriff would have to enforce them.
“But there are things not enforced right now that are laws. Technically, it’s against the law to drive an off-road vehicle on county roads,” Hyder said. “Does the sheriff pull those drivers over every time they’re seen? No.”
The resolution was approved 3-1. Commissioner David Carlberg was absent.
The Bosque Farms village council has also declared its municipality a Second Amendment sanctuary with a 4-0 vote Thursday night.
To the north, in Sandoval County a similar scene played out Thursday night.
Commission chambers were filled to capacity – with a few dozen more people in an overflow room – as county residents gave comments on both sides of the issue.
Sandoval County Sheriff Jesse James Casaus had requested approval of the resolution. He said he was one of about 30 New Mexico county sheriffs who testified against several gun-related bills at the Legislature.
“This resolution does not mean the criminal element will be free to do as they please,” he said. “As the sheriff of Sandoval County, I will still enforce the existing laws and prosecute them to the fullest. This resolution assists in protecting law-abiding citizens in our county, and their Second Amendment rights.”
And the majority of civilian speakers said they supported the sanctuary status.
Republican Party representative and county resident Anissa Tinnin supported the sanctuary resolution.
“Criminals will get their hands on anything,” she said. “Law-abiding citizens should have their right to bear arms.”
But Michelle Gutierrez said too much time, energy and fighting were being spent to “sabotage some pretty common-sense laws.”
“If you like to beat your wife or children, or you are a criminal that can’t pass a background check, if you like to keep guns within easy reach of your children, then yes, I can see how you would support this type of resolution,” she said. “… These laws (would be) in place to prevent tragedy, to protect our loved ones and our community.”
The resolution passed 4-1.
District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch cast the dissenting vote.
District 5 Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald spoke against the resolution but said he voted for it at his constituents’ request.
Argen Duncan is the editor of the Rio Rancho Observer. Julia Dendinger is the assistant editor of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.