SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s top election official has again rejected an attempt to challenge a new gun control law by getting it on the ballot for voters to decide.
Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said the law to expand background checks to nearly all private gun sales was designed to improve public safety and therefore exempt from statewide referendums. She responded Thursday to a revamped proposed petition from House Republican leader James Townsend of Artesia.
Toulouse Oliver’s decision could prompt a legal challenge over the legislation and the state’s restrictions on such ballot measures, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.
Townsend said Friday that every option is on the table. He noted concerns raised by most of New Mexico’s 33 sheriffs and more than two dozen counties — many in Democratic-leaning districts — that passed “Second Amendment sanctuary” measures in opposition to gun laws debated by state lawmakers this year.
“The people of New Mexico want their voices heard, and the secretary of state continues to ignore them. The secretary of state is supposed to encourage voter participation, not suppress it,” Townsend said.
Townsend has argued that Toulouse Oliver does not have the authority to unilaterally determine if a particular piece of legislation falls into the category of “providing for the public peace, health and safety.”
In her response, Toulouse Oliver, who is weighing a run for U.S. Senate, wrote that argument was “simply incorrect.”
Referendums are rare in New Mexico, and the petition process has lengthy requirements that include collecting tens of thousands of signatures before the issue could be put on a ballot.
The new law requires background checks for nearly all firearm sales, including between two individuals, such as neighbors or friends. There are exceptions for family members and for antique guns.
Republican lawmakers and many sheriffs have argued the policy would be unenforceable and only burden law-abiding gun owners while doing little to prevent gun violence.
Proponents argue that the law closes a loophole that allows people to sell firearms to each other without going through the sort of background check that is standard at retailers.
State Attorney General Hector Balderas last week issued a warning to sheriffs and police chiefs throughout New Mexico that they risk legal liability if they refuse to enforce the new law that takes effect July 1.
Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, a Democrat who is president of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, recently told the Albuquerque Journal that officers already have discretion in how they enforce the law. A deputy, for example, can issue a warning rather than a citation after pulling over a speeding driver, he said.
“We’re elected by the people in our communities,” he said of his fellow sheriffs, “and that’s what we’re looking at — what do the people in our communities want?”