NM's decision to review its gun policies has advocates up in arms

He may live in one of the safest counties in one of the safest states in the country, but that doesn't stop Gary Slider from carrying a handgun with him everywhere he goes. He's been doing so for the past 35 years.

"If I don't feel it on me, I feel naked," Slider, a West Virginia resident, tells SFR. "Just like you feel without your wallet."

He brings his gun with him when he travels to other states and says he takes a longer drive to a Pennsylvania mall because an Ohio one won't recognize his concealed-carry permit. Similarly, Slider was planning to bring his family to New Mexico this summer for vacation but, in light of recent developments, will now skip the state and head to Wyoming instead.

"I don't go places I'm not welcome," he says.

On May 1, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety updated its concealed-carry reciprocity list. DPS determined that just six other states meet all of New Mexico's requirements for reciprocity, despite the fact that it currently recognizes a total of 19 states' concealed-carry permits.

DPS spokesman Bill Hubbard writes to SFR in an email that New Mexico will still recognize licenses from the 13 remaining states, and that it is working with them to find common ground and may even expand reciprocity to more states. He adds that he can't find records showing the last time DPS conducted a comprehensive review of New Mexico's reciprocity policy.

Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, writes in an email to SFR that reciprocity agreements with other states are ongoing processes to ensure that those states' policies align with New Mexico gun laws.

"In New Mexico, the law is clear that citizens who undergo a background check, and who are over the age of 21, are eligible for a permit," Darnell writes.

Still, the changes have led to confusion among gun enthusiasts like Slider and tongue-in-cheek endorsements from Martinez detractors.

Last summer, Martinez hit a populist nerve when she proudly released a video of her renewing her concealed-carry permit. In it, she aces her test on the firing range. ("Chuck will never admit it, but I'm a better shot," she tweeted, referring to her husband.)

Then, this March, Martinez signed a bill expanding New Mexico residents' rights to purchase rifles and shotguns in other states, prompting praise from the National Rifle Association. But DPS' decision to review its reciprocity policies has drawn praise from the opposite camp.

"It's a smart, progressive decision," Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, tells SFR, "whether [Martinez] knew she made it or not."

Specifically, Davis says tightening gun laws adequately balances the opinions of people who want "the right to have a weapon and those who want to do so responsibly." He adds that strengthening the rules could help prevent out-of-state visitors with past legal problems from carrying a gun and wreaking havoc in New Mexico.

ProgressNow first brought attention to DPS' decision in a May 1 online post titled "Thank You, Governor Martinez!"

"Admittedly, we were shocked," Davis says. "On this, we think she is standing up to people with big political power."

But others speculate that the tightening of the laws could have something to do with another hot-button issue: immigration. Just one week before the DPS updates, the Washington state-based Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit against New Mexico over its law banning "legal resident aliens" from receiving concealed-carry permits.

SAF filed the lawsuit on behalf of John Jackson, an Australian citizen who immigrated to New Mexico in 2007. Although he's in the country legally, Jackson is barred from obtaining a New Mexico concealed-carry permit. SAF Vice President Alan Gottlieb says the suit follows successful precedents from both state courts and the US Supreme Court.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment applies to individuals as well as militias. In 2010, the same high court extended the right to bear arms to cities and states.

Chicago-area lawyer David Sigale, the lead attorney in the SAF suit against New Mexico, says several cases attempting to interpret the recent Supreme Court precedents have since popped up. One of them was Fletcher v. Haas, a Massachusetts case over a similar issue to the one Sigale is challenging now. He adds that about 10 states currently restrict gun laws on legal immigrants.

"Times have changed," Sigale tells SFR. "One hundred years ago, you were up to no good if you carried concealed. If you were a real man, you'd have a holster on your side when you went into a saloon."

Massachusetts barred legal immigrants from purchasing firearms until March, when a federal district court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional. Sigale speculates that New Mexico's tightening of its concealed carry laws could be related to the law he's challenging.

"You hear 'immigrant,' and everyone is jumping on a lynch mob," he says. "This case isn't about illegal immigration at all."

Regardless of the intent, Slider says over the past week he's read nearly 100 posts in gun forums by people who say they will stop traveling here because of the changes.

"What's surprised me about this whole deal is the number of people I've seen saying they'll never go to New Mexico," he says.

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