San Juan County sheriff concerned NM gun control bill could violate constitutional rights

Officials: Farmington will likely consider Second Amendment sanctuary city resolution

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • Aztec Mayor Victor Snover says the sheriff is 'making public safety a partisan issue.'
  • Introduced bills include background checks, red flag laws.
  • Commissioner GloJean Todacheene cast the only vote agaisnt the resolution.

FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Commission put the county firmly on record Tuesday as a Second Amendment sanctuary county, and Wednesday officials in the City of Farmington said they may hear a similar measure soon.

San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari told the County Commission Tuesday he is concerned gun control bills working their way through the state Legislature could violate constitutional rights to bear arms and due process rights.

The commission then voted 4-1 to pass a resolution supporting Ferrari's decision not to enforce these bills if they become law unless a court rules that the measures do not violate the constitution.

San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari speaks about pending gun control legislation, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, during a San Juan County Commission meeting in Aztec.

Ferrari expressed concern with two bills

There were two bills in particular that Ferrari addressed that have both passed in the state House of Representatives.

The first bill would require a federal background check whenever a gun is sold. Violating the law would result in a misdemeanor.

The second bill he addressed is referred to as a red flag law. It would allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to remove the firearms from a person who has been deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The idea is not unique to New Mexico. Thirteen states have passed similar laws.

Ferrari said he is concerned that the measure would violate due process rights and could put his officers in danger if they went to confiscate guns.

He said he would like to see legislation that increases penalties for felons in possession of firearms and legislation that would target repeat offenders. Ferrari added that the state also needs to do more to address mental illness. In terms of school safety, he said schools need more funding for security measures.

More:San Juan County passes Second Amendment sanctuary county resolution

Farmington will likely consider similar resolution

While the resolution states San Juan County Sheriff's Office will not enforce the measures if they are enacted, other local law enforcement agencies may still enforce them. The resolution does not apply to Farmington, Aztec or Bloomfield police departments.

In a joint statement from the Farmington Police Department and the city, City Manager Rob Mayes said the City Council will likely consider a similar resolution in the near future.

"As a law enforcement agency, our job is to uphold the law, and we take an oath to uphold the Constitution," Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in the statement. "We are dedicated to ensuring a safe community and will be keeping a close eye on all proposed legislation."

Rob Mayes

Mayor Nate Duckett encouraged residents to reach out to their elected officials.

“Currently these measures have only passed in the State House of Representatives," he said in the statement. "Citizens should voice their concerns about the constitutionality of proposed legislation to their elected representatives at the State Senate and governor’s office.”

San Juan County is represented by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington.

Bloomfield City Manager George Duncan said the city has not drafted a resolution like the county's measure, however it did pass a resolution in August supporting Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal's efforts to get legislation passed that Heal says will protect students.

Heal has been pushing for the legislation that would allow guns to be confiscated from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

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Aztec mayor chastises county resolution

"I'm adamantly opposed to the actions of the county sheriff last night," said Aztec Mayor Victor Snover.

He said Aztec will not consider a sanctuary city resolution.

Snover expressed support for Heal and said he is disappointed in the county's decision. He said Aztec lost two students in a school shooting in 2017.  Snover described the legislation as common-sense gun control that could give law enforcement tools to protect people including students.

"They're making public safety a partisan issue and that's wrong," Snover said.

Ferrari said he understands why Heal has pushed for the red flag laws, however he does not believe any of the legislation that has been introduced could have stopped the Aztec High School shooting.

Aztec Mayor Victor Snover speaks, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at the start of the commission meeting.

Sheriff expresses frustration with Legislature

Ferrari said these bills are being approved at the Legislature with little discussion and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already stated she will sign them if the Legislature passes them.

“None of the gun safety measures that the Governor has endorsed in any way infringe in second amendment rights,” said Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor. “As such, these statement resolutions amount to expressions of opinion, which is absolutely fine. State law will be followed.”

The resolution uses a term generally prescribed to undocumented immigrant safe havens

The idea of a sanctuary county comes from the term used to describe counties and cities where immigration laws are not enforced. Ferrari said in those sanctuary counties and cities immigrants are safe from deportation.

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“What I’m doing is I’m saying the Second Amendment is safe in San Juan County,” Ferrari said.

The crowd packed into the county offices and flooding out the doors onto the sidewalk outside burst into cheers.

After Fortner read the resolution out loud, the people in the crowd got to their feet, clapped and chanted “USA, USA” before the commission had even voted on the measure. After the vote, the crowd responded in the same manner.

Resolution passed on party lines

Commissioner GloJean Todacheene, the lone Democrat on the commission, cast the sole dissenting vote.

After the meeting, Todacheene said the bills have not been signed into law and she wanted to know more about what it means to be a sanctuary county.

She said there need to be laws to protect the public. However, Todacheene said she recognizes that in rural areas people often keep guns for self defense. She said that is a valid concern.

“We’re a rural area and sometimes law enforcement doesn’t get there as quickly as in an urban setting,” Todacheene said.

During the meeting, Todacheene asked how the Sheriff’s Office would determine if a gun law was constitutional.

County Commissioner GloJean Todacheene speaks, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, while Commissioners Jim Crowley and Jack Fortner listen during a swearing in ceremony in Aztec.

Ferrari explained that the courts would make that decision.

At several points in the meeting, Todacheene directly asked the crowd to allow Ferrari to answer questions rather than yelling out responses.

“He is the one who has the resolution, so he gets to answer my questions,” she said.

A member of the audience responded yelling, “but he’s speaking for us.”

San Juan County Democratic Party Chairwoman MP Schildmeyer said there are no provisions in any of the bills introduced that would remove guns from law-abiding citizens.

“I think the resolution was premature, ineffective...and by dividing the law enforcement community could endanger the citizens of San Juan County,” she said.

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Counties throughout the state pass resolutions in response to firearm legislation

San Juan County is one of more than half a dozen counties that have passed resolutions in response to the firearm legislation.

Lincoln, Quay, Union, Socorro, Eddy, Cibola and Curry have all passed similar resolutions.

Taos County postponed voting on a Second Amendment sanctuary county resolution Monday to give the sheriff time to refine the measure. The Taos News reported some residents were concerned the wording would give the sheriff nearly supreme authority when deciding which laws to enforce.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email