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Legislator Defends Effort To Defy Feds

SANTA FE — A Republican state lawmaker who introduced legislation last week that would prohibit the enforcement of federal gun laws in New Mexico said Monday that it’s time for the state to “stand up” to federal government intrusion.

On the other side of the political spectrum, top-ranking Democratic lawmakers called for increased funding for mental health programs and said they were willing to consider new gun control measures after the arrest of a 15-year-old on charges that he killed five of his family members in Bernalillo County’s South Valley with an assault rifle and other weapons.

“We’ve ignored it for far too long. We need to address it, and we need to address it now,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said of mental health funding during a Monday media briefing.

The debate over gun-related legislation in New Mexico, a historically firearms-friendly state, has been mostly limited in recent years to concealed weapon permits.

However, the dynamics could be different this year, due to the South Valley shooting and President Barack Obama’s recent call for new federal gun restrictions, including a ban on assault-style weapons and certain ammunition magazines.

Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, who introduced the state measure last week that would make it a felony for any government official or firearms dealer to enforce federal firearms laws in the state, said gun owners’ rights are in jeopardy.

“It’s time that we stand up and protect our rights,” Espinoza told the Journal.

She said it is unfair for responsible gun owners to be punished in the aftermath of recent high-profile shootings and said her legislation — House Bill 114 — is supported by a large number of New Mexicans.

“It is trying to send a message to the federal government that we are not going to just sit and allow the federal government to do as it pleases,” Espinoza said. “They need to respect the rights of our citizens and the Constitution.”

Espinoza’s bill has not yet received a House hearing, but at least one Democratic lawmaker has raised concerns the measure might be unlawful.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said Monday that he would be willing to consider new measures, such as tougher gun safety regulations, that would not simply “criminalize” gun ownership.

“Everything is on the table,” Martinez said.

In addition to Espinoza’s bill, several other gun-related bills have also been introduced since the Legislature convened last Tuesday. They include:

⋄  House Bill 77 — Would close the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring mandatory background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows or from private vendors. Sponsored by Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque.

⋄  House Bill 137 — Would allow holders of concealed carry permits to take their guns into licensed liquor establishments and restaurants. Sponsored by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal