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Sheriffs’ emails sought in gun-law battle

A nonprofit that pushes for gun control laws nationwide sent letters Wednesday to numerous New Mexico sheriffs, asking them to provide records related to their coordinated stance against gun control laws that they do not plan to enforce.

The Brady Center, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, said it requested emails from the sheriffs under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, with demands for emailed communication among sheriffs and gun lobby representatives.

Attorney Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center said his group is seeking the emails to learn “what possible basis” the sheriffs have for declaring they won’t enforce the laws. The center also wants to obtain any communication the law enforcement officials had with the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.

A law requiring mandatory background checks on nearly all firearms sales in New Mexico, including those between private individuals, has been signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. A bill that would keep people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence from possessing firearms awaits her signature.

Despite those legislative victories for gun control advocates, Lowy said, concern remains that sheriffs have declared they will not enforce the laws. Twenty-five out of 33 New Mexico sheriffs who argue the laws are unenforceable and threaten their constituents gun ownership rights have won support from their county commissioners with resolutions saying they will not be required to enforce the laws.

“It is outrageous sheriffs could simply refuse to enforce important public safety laws that were enacted to protect people from gun violence,” Lowy said.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, president of the New Mexico Sheriffs Association, said he had not seen Brady’s public records request, but he said he would comply with it.

He told The Associated Press that he expected the emails that become public would likely include correspondence among sheriffs and a National Rifle Association lobbyist in the state, as well as gun control advocates representing Everytown for Gun Safety.

He said sheriffs maintained a consistent message throughout the debate over the laws, and that the emails would reflect that.

“The concerns we put before constituents and lawmakers are the same concerns we take to the NRA,” he said.

Mace said the NRA lobbyist had sent the Sheriffs Association talking points that sheriffs could refer to as they testified in hearings. Meanwhile, sheriffs expressed their concerns over measures they hoped the lobbyist would share in meetings with lawmakers.

Gun control advocates exchanged emails with the sheriffs association seeking to discuss possible amendments to the legislation.

In the end, the laws to expand background checks and to restrict gun access among domestic violence offenders passed through the Legislature with the Sheriffs Association’s opposition. Two other heavily debated measures did not win final approval from lawmakers before legislators ended their session this month.

The legislation that did not win final approval included a proposal to expand child neglect laws to encompass the secure storage of household firearms, and a bill to remove firearms from the hands of people who may be suicidal or seen as dangerous to others.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has dismissed opposition to this year’s gun reforms as being part of a national “misinformation campaign.” She said the laws will enhance public safety.

Mace, who describes himself as a conservative Democrat, rejected both assertions. He has said sheriffs’ stance to not enforce the laws and declare their jurisdictions “Second Amendment counties” with their commissions’ support was inspired by Washington state sheriffs’ resistance to new laws.

In recent weeks, several sheriffs in Nevada and Colorado also have won support in their counties for similar resolutions in protest of legislation in their states.

Lowy, the attorney for Brady, said Wednesday that the center has requested records from only the 25 New Mexico sheriffs. They represent the most rural counties in the state.

Attorney Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, president of the New Mexico Sheriffs Association