SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – The New Mexico Attorney General says that law enforcement agencies must enforce a new law that extends background checks to almost all private arms sales and that they may be held liable for damage claims if they do not.
Attorney General Hector Balderas issued the warning in a letter sent to police chiefs and sheriffs on Thursday, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The law comes into effect on July 1.
Numerous county sheriffs opposed the legislation when it was considered by the democratically-led legislature, but it was approved by legislators and then signed by Democratic government leader Michelle Lujan Grisham on March 8.
Critics argued that the extensive background checks and other arms control measures would be difficult to enforce and do little to tackle rifle violence, and at least 26 provincial committees approved so-called Second Amendment sanctuary ordinances in opposition.
Several sheriffs in Nevada and Colorado have also received support in their provinces for similar resolutions in protest against legislation in their states.
Proponents said the law of New Mexico will make it harder for criminals or others who have forbidden to have a gun to get a gun.
Balderas, a democrat, told law enforcement authorities that they have a legal obligation to enforce the broadened background control requirements, whether or not they agree with the legislation.
"As law enforcement officials," Balderas said, "we do not have the freedom to choose and choose which state laws we enforce."
The president of the New Mexico Sheriffs & Association said Balderas' letter was premature because the law did not come into force and because law enforcement officials have some freedom in enforcing laws.
"We are chosen by the people in our communities," said Sheribard of Cibola sheriff, about his fellow sheriffs, "and that is what we are looking at – what do people in our communities want?"
The law requires a background check for almost every weapon sale, including between two people. There are exceptions for the sale between two close family members and between law enforcement officers.
Balderas & b. 39 letter said that a police chief or sheriff who refuses to enforce the law can be held liable if a firearm sale results in a forbidden person acquiring a firearm and causing damage.
"In short," said Balderas, "the taxpayers of your city or region take the financial risk of your decision to impose your personal opinion on the law."
The attorney general said he knows that sheriffs and police chiefs have the freedom to lead their agencies, but he said that personal political views "don't release us from our duty to enforce laws that have been validly established."
The three most populated areas of New Mexico – Bernalillo, Doña Ana and Santa Fe – did not fight against the law and Lujan Grisham last month accused the sheriffs who were against the new law because they were part of a "national disinformation campaign" powered by the National Rifle Association.
State House Republicans try to get the case to the voters through a rarely used voter referendum process.