SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Friday to drastically expand mandatory background checks on firearms sales in New Mexico, as she shot down opposition against the measure and other proposed gun reforms as being part of a national “misinformation campaign.”
The governor, a Democrat who took office in January, commended the bill’s Democratic sponsors, students and other gun-reform advocates who pushed for the law, saying it would enhance public safety in a state that FBI statistics say has one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates.
The law will close a loophole for firearms sales in New Mexico by requiring background checks to be conducted on people who want to purchase from vendors online, at gun shows and other venues where sellers may not have a federal license.
Felons are among those who are not lawfully permitted to own a firearm under federal law.
“What we’re doing is increasing the standards and the safety precautions,” Lujan Grisham said. “We have to change the climate, and universal background checks are not an imposition on an individual purchasing a firearm.”
As she signed the bill, she was surrounded by about a dozen youth, including some of the 100 students who participated in a “die-in” Friday in the capitol’s rotunda.
The demonstration was held to call attention to school shootings in the United States. Some wore T-shirts bearing the names of victims shot and killed at school. A few fought back tears as the students lay on the marble floor for six minutes and 20 seconds — the time it took for a gunman to kill 17 students at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February 2018.
Several law enforcement officials also stood behind the governor, including the Albuquerque police chief and Santa Fe County sheriff. About 30 other sheriffs in the state have said they will not enforce the law, as well as any others that win approval in the Legislature this session.
The sheriffs argue the bills infringe on gun owners’ constitutional rights and would be ineffective in stopping criminals from obtaining weapons.
“I really think next year we’ll be back at the Legislature, saying, ‘Well that didn’t’ work, what do we do now?’ ” Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace said in a phone interview.
In other states — including Washington, Nevada and Illinois, — sheriffs have taken similar positions against gun reforms in their states, with some of the locally elected law enforcement officials adopting “Second Amendment sanctuary” sentiments to back their decisions not to enforce the laws.
In New Mexico, at least 26 counties have adopted resolutions saying they will not allow for resources to be spent on any laws their sheriffs believe are unconstitutional.
More than 20 states have similar restrictions for sales on at least some private firearms sales, according to the Brady Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for expanding gun control laws nationwide.