Banned From the Beginning?

Mayor Alan Webber, councilors vote to put up signs prohibiting guns in some city facilities, calling it a “statement” in support of their read on existing state law

Santa Fe’s mayor and City Council voted 7-2 on Wednesday night to put up signs at certain city facilities, including at City Hall, stating that guns are banned.

While the signs will be new, city officials insist the policy—based on their reading of state law—isn’t. Guns have actually been banned from these buildings all along, their logic goes.

Mayor Alan Webber, who backed the move, points to a provision in New Mexico statute that prohibits guns at any public facility used for school-sanctioned activities. The mayor reasons that this includes libraries, municipal soccer fields and even City Hall, though perhaps not all city facilities and public places as he had previously proposed.

Pointing to high-profile mass shootings in California over the weekend, Webber called the resolution “common sense public safety measures.”

“This is a way of making a statement and enforcing existing law,” Webber said.

But some city councilors raised concerns that the law is not so clear.

A couple groups—New Mexico Patriots Advocacy Coalition and Pro-Gun Women—are suing the city of Albuquerque over a similar policy, with a trial set for later this year, citing a 1980s National Rifle Association-backed amendment to the New Mexico Constitution that prohibits cities from regulating firearms.

Meanwhile, enforcement of Albuquerque’s policy has been rocky, with police controversially using it to cite protesters on Civic Plaza. The new state attorney general, Raúl Torrez, was the district attorney in Albuquerque at the time and as of 2021, his office was declining to prosecute cases under that city’s gun ordinance due to what a spokeswoman called “legal ambiguity.”

And in Santa Fe, city officials took a very different view of the issue in 2017 when a man attended a council meeting packing a pistol.

At the time, police officers did nothing to stop the open carrying of firearms in the council chambers.

It’s not clear when Santa Fe leaders settled on their current view on state law.

SFR requested the city turn over records of any directives, memos or administrative orders in 2022 or 2023 about the city’s relatively new interpretation of the law. But the city didn’t provide any, aside from the resolution approved Wednesday and a short memo about it. Instead, the city mostly turned over emails from Webber and City Attorney Erin McSherry complaining about coverage of the issue from other news organizations and insisting guns have been banned from some city facilities all along.

“I do think this opens us up for litigation,” said District 3 Councilor Lee Garcia, who voted against the resolution along with fellow District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera.

Co-sponsoring the resolution were District 4 Councilor Amanda Chavez, District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell, District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth and District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt.

Wednesday’s vote in Santa Fe may take pressure off legislators to untie the hands of city and county governments.

While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democrats in the Legislature have called for several changes in the state’s gun laws this year, lawmakers appear uninterested in putting the 1980s amendment back on the ballot to let voters decide if cities should be allowed to adopt their own gun regulations.

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