In front of an audience of nearly 150 county residents, Valencia County commissioners approved a nonbinding resolution declaring the county a Second Amendment “sanctuary county” on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Dozens of residents offered their opinion on the resolution, with the majority of them favoring becoming a “sanctuary county.”
The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner David Hyder, but not recently elected Sheriff Denise Vigil.
The resolution, like many others approved across the state in recent weeks, supports the Valencia County sheriff in her decision-making authority to not enforce laws she deems unconstitutional, said county attorney Adren Nance, and to not use government funds and resources to support those laws.
“This is a general policy statement, not a law,” Nance said.
Valencia County resident Ron Romero said the proposed legislation under consideration this session is a threat to and in direct conflict with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“I doubt any reasonable person would disagree there is too much gun violence. These new laws only serve to temporarily satisfy a group of individuals who think the solution is to pass another law,” Romero said.
He called the proposed bills “part of a larger effort to reduce and erode the Second Amendment.”
Bob Draszkiewick implored the commissioners to seek legal council before declaring Valencia County a “gun sanctuary.”
“If Valencia County becomes a gun sanctuary and one more citizen loses a loved one because Valencia County did not abide by state gun laws, then these citizens have the right to bring a civil suit against Valencia County,” Draszkiewick said, noting that he and his wife are gun owners themselves.
Bosque Farms resident Jane Hutchins supports declaring the county a Second Amendment sanctuary county.
“By taking my gun away, you take away my ability to protect myself, make me into a victim,” Hutchins said.
The resolution gives the sheriff authority to use her discretion to not enforce unconstitutional laws, said resident Janet Gates.
“I would support that. Who would want anyone to enforce an unconstitutional law?” Gates said. “It’s my understanding in talking to other law enforcement, they have to be careful to get their due process ducks in a row and prove probable cause, but that can be done correctly and wouldn’t be unconstitutional”
Calling the resolution “somewhat symbolic,” County Commissioner Charles Eaton was the only commissioner to vote against the declaration.
“… it somewhat sets policy in place. I think we are sending the message to our chief law enforcement officer to not enforce certain laws.
“Don’t read me wrong; I am a gun owner …. and understand the Second Amendment and want to protect the rights of the citizens. But whenever we’re telling our (sheriff) to not enforce laws, whether we agree or disagree, it is a dangerous precedent.”
Hyder countered that if the bills were signed into law by the governor, the sheriff would have to enforce them.
“But there are things not enforced right now that are laws. Technically it’s against law to drive an off road vehicle on county roads,” Hyder said. “Does the sheriff pull those drivers over every time they’re seen? No.
“Really, this is even more power to the sheriff. We do support her decision making, especially on new laws out of Santa Fe and D.C. This isn’t about state legislation. It’s about the Second Amendment of the Constitution.”
The resolution was approved 3-1. Commissioner David Carlberg was absent.
Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil attended the commission meeting last week but didn’t weigh in on the resolution.
During an interview Thursday, Vigil said approval of the resolution signaled the commission’s support in her and her office.
“I appreciate that support. We can work together,” Vigil said. “I do think there might be some misconceptions on the part of the public about some of the proposed laws though.”
Specifically, the sheriff said, the two laws pertaining to background checks at gun shows and between private parties.
“Local law enforcement doesn’t do background checks. These laws aren’t proactive — they’re reactive,” Vigil said. “We won’t have any enforcement authority until after the fact, if someone breaks them. I don’t want the public to think these checks are something any sheriff’s department will be doing.”
Vigil said she and her command staff have been reviewing the proposed new gun legislation and feel there are enforcement issues with most of them, in terms of due process and meeting the legal bar of probable cause.
If the bills become law, Vigil said she couldn’t predict whether she would or could enforce them as they are written currently.
“As they are now, I’m concerned we will become the lesson learned,” she said. “The way many of these laws are written now could put us in the position of possibly violating someone’s due process rights.”
Vigil said the bills allowing seizure of weapons in situations of extreme risk and when a person has been charged with certain crimes could put officers in danger.
“People are not going to surrender their firearms easily,” she said. “Our job is to protect the public and my job is to protect the officers in this department. We absolutely want to protect victims of domestic violence and we never want to put guns in the hands of the bad guys. But the way these stand now, I see problems.”
The Bosque Farms Village Council became one of the first municipalities in the state to declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary with a 4-0 vote Thursday night.
Mayor Wayne Ake said several people had approached him, asking the village to adopt a resolution protecting their Second Amendment rights.
The village’s resolution mimics the language of the one passed by county commissioners, supporting the village police chief in his decision to not enforce unconstitutional firearms law against any citizen, and to not use government funds and resources to support those laws.
About a dozen residents turned out to support the resolution, with several of them speaking in favor.
“I hope we can keep this a rural county and keep our rights,” village resident Troy Turner said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Bosque Farms Police Chief Paul Linson said heads of law enforcement agencies throughout the state expressed concerns about the proposed bills.
“I will go on record to say I, 100 percent, believe in Second Amendment constitutional rights,” Linson said. “I’m proud to be here tonight, lined up behind you and the council.”
After the unanimous vote to approve the resolution, Ake said he was very proud to live in the village.
“I am very blessed to live here,” the mayor said. “We have you people standing behind us and our rights, and the chief stand behind us and our constitutional rights.”
In Peralta Tuesday night, the Second Amendment sanctuary town issue was non-contentious, with no one speaking up in opposition. The town council did take the unusual route of proposing to declare Peralta a sanctuary town by ordinance rather than a resolution, meaning its opposition to what it considers unconstitutional gun laws will be in the form of a town law rather than as a policy statement.
“I think some of these (gun laws) they’re considering (in the Legislature) are an infringement,” said Mayor Bryan Olguin in introducing the topic. “This allows our police chief a little more leeway.”
The three councilors in attendance, Randy Smith, Claudio Moya and Michael Leon-Otero agreed, and even absent Councilor Joseph Romero sent a note expressing support.
Only two audience members spoke up, both in favor of the sanctuary town designation. One was BFPD Chief Linson, whose department provides law enforcement for Peralta.
“We don’t have the resources to enforce the laws the Legislature is proposing,” he said.
Municipal Clerk Kori Taylor told councilors she received two calls on the topic Tuesday, both in support.
Olguin expressed some reservation about putting the declaration into an ordinance since state law overrules local law, but said he’d rather have the stronger statement of a law than a resolution. The councilors agreed.
Because it will be an ordinance, no vote could be taken Tuesday. The town will need to publish the proposed ordinance and bring it up for vote at a future meeting.
(Reporter Dana L. Bowley contributed to this report.)
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.