Torrance declares itself a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary County’

Torrance County Commissioners Ryan Schwebach and Kevin McCall just before a special county commission meeting Monday. Photo by Leota Harriman.

County commissioners rarely get a standing ovation for doing their jobs—but that was the reaction of an overflow crowd in Torrance County as commissioners passed a resolution Feb. 25 declaring it a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”

More than two dozen residents spoke in favor of the resolution, with no one speaking against it. On a motion by Commissioner Kevin McCall and a second by Commissioner Javier Sanchez, the vote to approve the resolution was unanimous.

Torrance County is following in the footsteps of most other rural counties in the state, led by their sheriffs, in opposing gun control legislation being proposed at the Legislature in Santa Fe.

The county’s resolution cites state law, the U.S. Constitution and three Supreme Court decisions, and says commissioners “do hereby declare the County of Torrance as a Second Amendment Sanctuary County where the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the United State Constitution are preserved.”

The resolution affirms the county commission’s support of Sheriff Martin Rivera “not to enforce any unconstitutional firearms law against any citizen” and says the county will not authorize funding or other resources “for the purpose of enforcing law that unconstitutionally infringes on the right of people to keep and bear arms.”

The public hearing started with Rivera reading a statement into the record. He said that in his over 20 years in law enforcement, “I have dealt with many issues involving firearms,” adding, “There are current laws that allow for that. I consider all of these laws reasonable, sound and necessary to the protection of the people I serve. With that being said, I do not find the current laws being proposed in the state Legislature to be sound or necessary.”

A search on the Legislature’s website for proposed legislation containing the word “gun” yielded about a dozen bills total, generated by both the House and Senate. To find out the status of the various bills as the legislative session progresses, visit nmlegis.gov.

On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took to Twitter, where she posted, “I’m not daunted by obstacles, whether it’s NRA propaganda, rogue sheriffs throwing a childish pity party or bad-faith critics.”

She also tweeted, “A few law enforcement officers in this state have been making noise about how they won’t enforce gun safety measures because they don’t like them. That’s not how laws work, of course, and it’s not how oaths of office work either.”

Rivera called out four pieces of legislation in his statement: House Bill 130, HB 83, HB 87 and HB 8.

House Bill 130 amends the definition of “neglected child” in the Abuse and Neglect Act, according to the fiscal impact report on the bill, “to include a child whose parent, guardian or custodian leaves a loaded or unloaded firearm anywhere the parent, guardian or custodian knows or reasonably should know the child could obtain and possess the firearm without appropriate adult supervision.”

Rivera said this issue is already covered by state law, citing a statute which says “abuse of a child” means a person knowingly causes or permits a child to be in danger.

House Bill 83 was passed in the House by a vote of 39 to 30. Called the “Extreme Risk Protection Order Act,” it would create “a new civil process where either a household member or a law enforcement officer can petition the district court for a protective order against an individual who ‘poses an immediate danger of causing personal injury to self or others by having custody, control or possession of a firearm or ammunition.’” It outlines three different types of protection orders, and says, “A law enforcement officer serving any extreme risk protection order shall request that all firearms and ammunition in the respondent’s custody or control or that the respondent possesses or owns be immediately relinquished.” The legislation also provides for return of such property after expiration of the protection order.

Torrance County Sheriff Martin Rivera making his statement to the county commission. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Rivera said judges already have the ability to “mandate that weapons be removed with cause” and added, “Law enforcement already has the right to seize firearms when exigent circumstances are presented.”

House Bill 87 also passed in the House by a vote of 37 to 28.

Dubbed “Domestic Violence & Firearm Possession,” the bill would amend the state statute to expand the list of people who are “not lawfully permitted to receive, transport, or possess a firearm or destructive device,” according to the fiscal analysis report on the legislation.

That report says the bill would prohibit those convicted of battery or aggravated battery against a household member, criminal damage to property of a household member, stalking, or a federal crime related to the transport of firearms and ammunition from owning a gun.

Rivera said the law duplicates a state statute “which gives judges the discretion of mandating the seizure or surrender of firearms.”

House Bill 8 passed in the House by a vote of 41 to 25. It would require a “federal instant background check” on the sale of a firearm.

“The majority of sales of firearms already require background checks,” Rivera said. “This bill also makes criminals out of people wanting to sell their property.”

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales made a statement saying, “As your Sheriff, I believe there are enough laws on the books to effectively deal with the unlawful possession and use of firearms by any kind of perpetrator.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said he supports House Bill 8 and its equivalent in the Senate, adding, “It’s not for me to determine if a law is unconstitutional.”

“I want people to know that I support the second amendment,” Mendoza told The Independent. “My father is a veteran and I come from a proud military family. I’m a hunter. I took an oath to protect the community I serve and I just see extending background checks as a public safety issue and not a second amendment issue.”

At the public hearing, Estancia Mayor Nathan Dial told commissioners that the town passed a similar resolution a few days previously. “I’m here to support the sheriff and the second amendment as it stands,” he said.

The county’s Republican Party supported the move, as did the state Republican Party, represented by its first vice-chair, Rick Lopez, a resident of Torrance County.

“We must stand united,” Lopez said. “We must not let them chip away at our rights.”

No representatives from the county or state Democratic Party spoke at the public hearing, which took on a partisan tone in spite of Chairman Ryan Schwebach asking those commenting not to do so.

Maria Martinez of Moriarty said she has spent time at the Legislature during the current session, adding, “They are serious up there and taking our rights away.”

“It’s nice that we stand up for our rights, people,” said Joseph Simpson. “If they see they can separate us, they’ll do it.”

Describing himself as a “Constitutional conservative,” Bruce Wildman said, “This is what happens when we vote Democrats into office.”

Michael Godey, a resident of Tajique, described himself as an “old-school progressive” and said he supports the resolution.

“It’s often said that gun owners are compensating for something,” said Olivia Haven of Mountainair, going on to say that she is compensating for being “105 pounds and helpless” against a physical attack, and citing rape statistics.

Nancy Simpson is an immigrant who described the United States as a “precious gemstone,” adding, “Let us not lose it.”

At the end of the public hearing, Schwebach called for the motion. The room burst into applause as those in attendance gave commissioners a standing ovation at the resolution’s passage.