At its March 5 council meeting, Mountainair’s town council took the advice of its attorney, and did not vote on becoming a “second amendment sanctuary city.”
Towns and counties around the state, including Estancia and Torrance County, have recently passed resolutions—which carry no force of law—declaring that they will not uphold laws they deem unconstitutional.
“As you know any resolution is guidance only and does not become law,” Mountainair’s lawyer, Randy Autio, wrote in an email to the town’s mayor, Peter Nieto, adding, “It can be passed to make a statement to the legislature, but when it comes to law enforcement your police chief as an officer of the law is bound to follow the laws of the state of New Mexico until a court of law enjoins their enforcement or determines they are unconstitutional.”
Nieto had conducted a poll on Facebook asking Mountainair residents if the matter should be added to the town’s agenda. With 258 people responding, about 85 percent of them were in favor.
“Our founding fathers created three branches of government,” Nieto said, adding that it is the role of the courts to decide whether a law is constitutional. “The question essentially being posed today is do we believe that gun laws being proposed in Santa Fe are constitutional or unconstitutional. Our role in municipal government is not to make that determination.”
Nieto said “most people think we have two options here, yes or no,” adding, “I would like to remind this governing body that we have a third option before us today. We can not vote on it, and leave it to our judicial system … the way our founding fathers intended. … It’s how our government was designed. It is how our government has been working since its inception, and it is how we should vote here today. These laws absolutely need to be decided by a court of law and not a court of opinion, and not by the governing body of the town of Mountainair.”
Nieto said he is willing to entertain a resolution which says Mountainair residents oppose legislation, and the town has set up a special meeting March 11 at 5:30 p.m. to draft such a resolution.
After Nieto explained the town’s attorney’s position, the council voted in accordance with his advice: to neither support nor vote down “second amendment sanctuary” status for the town, on a motion by Councilor Adrian Padilla and a second by Juanita Carrillo. The motion passed unanimously, with Councilor Ernie Lopez absent.
After the motion passed, a few people in the audience questioned the decision, saying that they thought the Facebook poll meant the town would support the issue.
Councilors had little to say, pointing to the attorney’s advice on the matter. About 10 people then left the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, resident Mike Hays said during the public comment period, “I think it took a lot of courage for you guys to stay focused on the issue at hand, which is that the town council and the town doesn’t take positions on constitutional law and that you … couldn’t be used for propaganda purposes for one team or another.”