Over the last year, I, like many New Mexicans, have followed with great interest New Mexico sheriffs’ vocal support for Second Amendment rights and strident opposition to any legislation they view as contrary to those rights. That includes pursuing resolutions from governing bodies declaring their particular geographic area “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.”
We could spend a great deal of time discussing why any law enforcement officer would oppose legislation like a red flag law that might keep a mentally unstable person from shooting one of their fellow officers. We could also inquire as to why many New Mexico sheriffs, including my own, have decided to champion the creation of Second Amendment sanctuaries while ignoring other parts of the Constitution like the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, or the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects property rights. But those discussions are for another day.
I am writing this letter as a friendly warning to all Second Amendment advocates who are also elected officials. I applaud the exercise of your First Amendment right to not only assemble as a group but also oppose any law that you believe infringes upon your Second Amendment rights. Your ability to advocate your position before our Legislature is at the very heart of our democratic system. However, at the point that the Legislature has spoken by passing a new law and that law is signed by the governor, your oath as an elected official must take priority over your personal beliefs and individual interpretations of the Second Amendment.
I raise this issue because more than one sheriff has stated that if a law is passed they believe violates the Second Amendment they will refuse to enforce it. In fact the sanctuary city resolution passed by many government entities clearly makes that explicit threat. In my view any such declaration may subject elected officials to a removal proceeding based upon a violation of their oath of office.
Art. XX section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution requires that all elected officials in New Mexico take an oath to “support the constitution of the United States and the constitution and laws of this state, and that he will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of his office to the best of his ability.” It does not say that elected officials can pick and choose which laws to follow based on their own interpretation of the Constitution.
New Mexico law 10-4-2 (B) allows for the removal of local officers for “failure, neglect or refusal to discharge the duties of the office, or failure, neglect or refusal to discharge any duty devolving upon the officer by virtue of the office.”
In my view any sheriff or other elected official who refuses to enforce any statute is subject to removal under this law. The bottom line is that if you are unhappy with a law that has been passed, challenge it in court. If you can’t enforce a law, then resign from office. Whatever you do don’t refuse to follow the law because you may very well find yourself removed from office for violating your oath of office.