Gun Shy

Santa Fe city councilors cool to mayor’s proposal for banning guns from city buildings

Mayor Alan Webber’s proposal to ban guns from some municipal buildings, such as libraries and City Hall, is not going anywhere fast. That’s because city councilors have raised concerns that it may violate the state constitution.

The mayor introduced the resolution last month, offering it as a way around an amendment to the state constitution that bars cities from regulating firearms. The resolution, co-sponsored by councilors Amanda Chavez and Carol Romero-Wirth, leans on a state law that bans deadly weapons from school grounds and public facilities used for school-sanctioned activities.

Webber argues that could include city facilities students visit on field trips or use for sports competitions. But amid legal questions, the council’s Quality of Life Committee voted unanimously last week to postpone considering the proposal until next month.

“I think us as a governing body, we do not have the authority to take such action,” Councilor Michael Garcia told the committee.

Garcia said the city should take the issue of gun violence seriously. The mayor’s proposal comes as firearm-related deaths have increased among younger New Mexicans over the last decade and as gun sales have spiked.

“I think we can all agree we as a government need to do everything we can to ensure not only our children are safe but everybody in our community is safe,” Garcia said.

But the councilor said he wants the state attorney general to weigh in on the legality of the mayor’s approach.

That may not happen.

Albuquerque’s then-chief administrative officer issued a similar policy in 2020, which has now become the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Though Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez asked outgoing state AG Hector Balderas (Democrats, all) to provide a legal opinion on Albuquerque’s policy, Balderas declined, citing the ongoing lawsuit. (Torrez will have an opportunity to weigh in himself soon enough—he’s taking over as AG on Jan. 1, having handily won election to that office last month.) That lawsuit is moving slowly. A trial is set one year from now.

“In concept, I’m supportive of this,” Councilor Renee Villarreal told the committee. But Villarreal questioned how exactly the city should interpret the state law that bans deadly weapons from school grounds.

While the mayor envisions the ban as permanent at sites used for school-sanctioned events, regardless of time of day, councilors have asked whether the ban should depend on whether students are present.

The provision would not only protect students, Webber argues, but also local residents and city employees working in facilities that—at the moment—cannot prohibit guns.

But if the biggest legal obstacle to enacting the mayor’s resolution is the National Rifle Association-backed 1986 amendment to New Mexico’s Constitution tying the hands of local governments in regulating firearms, state legislators seem uninterested in repealing it. Gun violence prevention advocates in the Legislature will be pushing during the coming session to require safe gun storage and raise the age at which New Mexicans can buy AR-15-style rifles.

Advocates are also pushing for funding to better research gun violence and support public awareness campaigns.

But legislators and city leaders SFR has contacted say little about putting the 1986 amendment up to a statewide repeal vote, leaving it unlikely that voters will get a chance to decide on keeping the nearly 40-year-old provision in place.

Either way, some councilors do not see an urgency to the proposal.

“Is a sign really going to stop a mass shooting from happening?” Michael Garcia tells SFR after last week’s committee hearing.

And the mayor’s proposal does not go as far as he had initially proposed. In a May newsletter, after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, the mayor proposed a ban on firearms in all city facilities.

By relying on the state law banning guns on school grounds, Webber’s resolution might not end up going that far.

The Quality of Life Committee is expected to take up the proposal again next month. The Public Works and Utilities Committee as well as the Finance Committee are also expected to consider the measure before it reaches the City Council. While that was initially scheduled to occur as soon as Jan. 11, the delay in committee is likely to push back the proposal’s progress.

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