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ABQ councilors seek to ban guns on city properties

City Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson talk about a gun ordinance they are proposing. It would ban guns on city properties. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

In what they say is an unprecedented challenge to state law, three Albuquerque city councilors are pushing to ban guns on city properties – including City Hall, parks, libraries – and any place the City Council, city commissions or elected officials are holding an open meeting.

The legislation, filed Wednesday by Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Diane Gibson, cites more than a dozen shootings that have occurred at government buildings and public meetings around the country in the past 22 years.

The New Mexico Constitution prohibits municipalities from regulating citizens’ “right to keep and bear arms,” but the sponsors said they do not believe that should preclude communities from passing legislation they say would protect citizens.

“Quite frankly, we’re tired of waiting on Santa Fe and Washington to step up and do something,” Davis said. “We’re living with our constituents every day who are worried about this.”

Davis said no city in the state has challenged that constitutional provision since it was enacted more than 30 years ago, and he is ready for Albuquerque to set the case law.

“It is perfectly legal (today) for a person to walk into the City Council chambers in the middle of a meeting with an AR-15, and it is illegal for a police officer to stop and question them or ask them why until they start shooting, and we don’t believe that the prohibition in the Constitution was ever intended to keep us from keeping that meeting safe,” Davis said.

Davis on Wednesday also introduced two other gun-related bills, including one requiring gun owners to keep their firearms locked up when outside of their immediate possession and control.

The other would make it illegal to threaten mass violence in Albuquerque, including over social media, which Davis said would allow police to initiate investigations sooner than they now can.

Breaking any of the proposed laws would be a misdemeanor.

Any new gun regulations are sure to draw opposition. Enacting firearms legislation is controversial, even at the state level. New Mexico lawmakers earlier this year approved two gun-related bills – including one expanding background check requirements – but other gun measures failed to win approval.

Gibson said she thinks banning guns from city properties and meetings would create a safer environment for city employees as well as those who do business with the city or want to speak during public hearings.

She said that the sometimes contentious matters handled in public meetings and government centers do not mix well with guns, and that she has heard from friends and acquaintances who are hesitant to attend public meetings and gatherings out of fear.

“I’m not naive; I understand there are going to be people who will not support this and will see it as just another firearm law, but the way I look at this is much broader than that,” she said.

The councilors’ legislation would make it illegal to take a gun into “any city structure, building, or office space which is owned, leased or otherwise occupied by the City for purposes of hosting the public, or conducting business with the public,” and specifically notes City Hall, libraries, community centers, parks and recreation centers, except a shooting range.

It would not apply to law enforcement officials.

Benton said his primary goal is to keep guns out of public meetings and other places where residents must go to transact business with the government, such as when they file for building permits.

But he said ensuing public discussion of the bill – which should go through the council committee hearing process later this year – will likely help further refine the properties where it would apply.

“I think there are limits,” Benton said, noting that it would be too extreme to consider every piece of public property, such as city streets and sidewalks.

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