New Mexico Republicans say staffers will not comply with state capitol gun ban

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Last year, the Democrats in control of New Mexico’s state legislature imposed a ban on the general public lawfully carrying firearms inside the state capitol building, known as the Roundhouse. The move was controversial at the time, with several Republican lawmakers trashing the idea after the state’s Legislative Council voted along party lines to make the building a gun free zone.

Republican Sens. Greg Baca of Belen and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho issued a statement after the council meeting blasting the decision.

“It is clear that Democratic leaders in New Mexico know no bounds when it comes to their unchecked power,” the statement said. “Although we are used to legislative assaults on New Mexican’s rights, this is a uniquely bad, overly-broad, and rushed proposal that was written by politicians, not safety experts. … With no one to stop a criminal from jeopardizing all of our safety, this rule does little more than paint a target on our building for those who wish to do harm.”

State Rep. Rebecca Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, also criticized the ban, calling those in favor of it “radicals.”

“I have fought the radical legislature on this issue before, and I am happy to stand up to them again,” she wrote in a statement.

Now, however, Republican legislators are taking their objections to another level and declaring that their staff will no longer be complying with the edict.

In a letter, the three highest-ranking House Republicans cited abortion-rights protests in other parts of the country, and they said any staff member working for their caucus who has a license to carry a concealed firearm will do so “if they feel their personal safety is threatened.”

That could set up a legal clash, as House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, responded with a letter of his own making it clear that security staff will continue to enforce the firearms ban and prohibit any staff member from bringing a gun into the Capitol.

He urged House Republicans to contact State Police immediately “to convey to them any threats you have received.”

The rule imposed last year included a clause allowing Egolf and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart to grant exemptions to the ban, and Egolf has apparently allowed House Republican members to carry, but the ban still applies to legislative staff and other Roundhouse workers. The Republican leadership who sent the letter to their Democrat colleagues informing them that their staffers may start carrying for their personal protection say that the move is necessary given the concern over anti-abortion activists acting out violently if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court in coming weeks, declaring they would be “derelict in our duty, if we didn’t allow legislators and staff to protect themselves from potential harm when such hateful rhetoric is escalating across the nation.”

The problem for those staffers is that a letter from GOP leadership doesn’t change the actual policy at the Roundhouse, and Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf told Republicans that they don’t have the authority to “unilaterally declare that you may violate a rule of the Legislature because you believe it is your right to do so.” Egolf himself has the authority to exempt those staffers, but appears unwilling to take that step, choosing instead to keep staffers disarmed not only in the capitol complex itself, but as they’re walking to and from their vehicles at the beginning and end of the day.

The best recourse would be to simply axe the ban altogether, but that will never happen as long as Democrats are the ones making the rules. Whether the current ban gets a court challenge remains to be seen, and will likely depend on any staffer who is willing to risk a citation or arrest for violating the “no guns allowed” policy in the days ahead.