March 21, 2019

SOS rules against Republican petition aiming to overturn gun background check law

A gun show in Houston, TX. Wikicommons.

The New Mexico Secretary of State rejected the effort by House Republicans to overturn a new law requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases in New Mexico.

The Republican House leader said they are prepared to take legal action over the decision.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced today that the petition submitted by Republicans doesn’t meet the state’s constitutional requirements to overturn a law. In a letter to House Minority Jim Townsend, who submitted the petition along with House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, Toulouse Oliver wrote that because Senate Bill 8, which was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this month, relates to the public peace, health and safety, “it is not a law subject to referendum.”

While the state constitution allows for petitions to vote on overturning recently passed laws, it does not allow for the petitions to target laws related to the preservation of public peace, health or safety.

In her letter, Toulouse Oliver quoted a press release from Lujan Grisham that says the law “improves public safety by expanding required background checks on firearm purchases to include private gun sales, closing loopholes for certain sales like those made online or at gun shows.”

Toulouse Oliver also outlined technical problems with the petition, from failing to suggest a popular name for the law they wish to overturn and failing to submit a petition in the form outlined by state law.

In a statement, Townsend did not address the problems outlined by Toulouse Oliver, but alleged the “politics…played into this decision.”

“I have heard from people all over the state, both Democrat and Republican, who are outraged by the passage and signing of Senate Bill 8,” Townsend said. “We are fully prepared to take the actions necessary, including legal action, in order to protect the Constitutional rights of all New Mexicans.”

Even if the Secretary of State had approved the petition, it would have faced an uphill battle to reach ballots in 2020. Those who wished to overturn the petition would need to collect the signatures of registered voters equal to ten percent of those who cast a ballot in the 2019 election, including ten percent of those who voted in 2018 from at least 25 counties.

Then, it would have been placed on the ballot.

Toulouse Oliver said she consulted with the Attorney General. A spokesman for Balderas said in a statement Thursday afternoon, “Attorney General Balderas fully supports the Secretary of State’s authority to make this important decision.”

SOS Response to Rep. Townsend by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd

Update: Added information from a statement by Jim Townsend.

Update 2: Added a quote from a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas.