Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law Friday a high-profile bill that will add New Mexico to the list of roughly 20 states that require background checks for nearly all gun purchases.
The Democratic governor’s decision to sign the bill came after several weeks of fractious debate that featured several county sheriffs vowing to defy the law if enacted.
But other law enforcement officials – particularly in Albuquerque and Santa Fe – back the measure, and Lujan Grisham said it could lead to a decrease in gun violence, citing a study that fewer law enforcement officers are shot and killed in the line of duty in states with such laws.
“We all have a constitutional right to be safe in our homes and communities,” Lujan Grisham said Friday.
She also pushed back against critics of the bill, Senate Bill 8, accusing the sheriffs who oppose the newly minted law of being part of a “national misinformation campaign” driven by the National Rifle Association.
“It’s clear the NRA isn’t going to stop trying to meddle in making this a safer state,” she said during a ceremonial bill signing in the Governor’s Office, as top-ranking Democratic lawmakers, middle school students, gun control advocates and Albuquerque’s police chief looked on.
Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier said the new law – which will take effect July 1 – will allow police officers and detectives to investigate gun listings to ensure the firearms involved were not obtained illegally and are not purchased by individuals barred from owning guns.
“There are a number of avenues we could use,” he told the Journal.
However, other state law enforcement officials have argued the bill and other gun-related measures would be difficult to enforce and ultimately ineffective.
In all, 25 counties have passed “Second Amendment sanctuary” ordinances in opposition to the measures, and all but a few of the state’s 33 county sheriffs have come out against the proposals.
“I really think next year we’ll be back at the Legislature, saying, ‘Well, that didn’t’ work; what do we do now?’ ” Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace told the Associated Press.
Although the state’s three most populous counties – Bernalillo, Doña Ana and Santa Fe – have not joined the movement, top-ranking House Republicans have said the outcry shows lawmakers have ignored the will of New Mexicans, especially those in rural parts of the state.
They have also announced plans to try to repeal the background check law by way of the rarely used voter referendum process.
Although previous attempts to require background checks on nearly all types of gun purchases – including online sales and those at gun shows – have stalled at the Roundhouse, this year’s bill narrowly passed the Senate and then cleared the House.
When it takes effect, the bill signed into law Friday will apply to nearly all gun sales, including those between two individuals. But the new law will exempt gun sales and transfers between close family members and sales between law enforcement officers.
Backers insist it won’t infringe with gun owners’ constitutional rights, though opponents have questioned that claim.
“The crux of the legislation has nothing to do with the Second Amendment – it’s all about saving lives,” said Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, the bill’s primary sponsor.
Overall, New Mexico’s rate of firearm deaths per capita has been consistently higher than the national average.
As of 2017, the state had the nation’s 10th-highest rate – at 18.5 per 100,000 people – of deaths caused by firearms, according to state Department of Health data.