New Mexico AG's Opinion Doesn't Address Every Concern Over Gun 'Buybacks'

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Though there’s no evidence whatsoever that gun turn-in events reduce violent crime, suicides, or accidents involving firearms, these compensated confiscation programs are still wildly popular among anti-2A lawmakers and gun control advocates. But do the events run by the anti-gun outfit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence violate state law? That was the question raised by San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari after the group went door-to-door collecting guns in Farmington, New Mexico last December.


The group was originally set to host a gun “buyback” in conjunction with the Farmington Police Department, but after officials pulled the plug due to public criticism, the anti-gunners decided to gather up unwanted firearms on their own accord. Ferrari asked New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez’s office to weigh in on the legality of the collecting, given the state’s universal background check law, and while the AG says the “buybacks” are okay when law enforcement is involved, Ferrari says he still has questions.

Ferrari, who had raised the issue of the legality of the programs in a Dec. 17 Facebook post on his Shane Ferrari for Facebook page, acknowledged receiving the letter from the chief deputy AG and said he understood the reasoning that if a buy-back program is conducted in partnership with a law enforcement agency, it does not run afoul of state law.

But he said the letter did not address his question about what happens if organization such as New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence conduct such events on their own, without the participation of a law-enforcement agency. He said he had reached out to the New Mexico Department of Justice, formerly known as the Attorney General’s Office, two days ago for a response to that question and was awaiting a response.


In his initial letter to San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow, Chief Deputy Attorney General James Grayson declared that the state’s universal background check law isn’t quite as universal as its supporters contend, and that firearms that are transferred as gifts are exempted from the background checks that are required for the vast majority of private sales.

The problem is that most “buybacks” offer something in exchange for the firearms, whether its cash or a gift card of some type. The gun isn’t a “gift” to anti-gun organizations if the gun owner is getting something in return, and Ferrari still believes that any compensated confiscation event needs to have some sort of police partnership if its going to comply with New Mexico state law.

Miranda Viscoli, who runs New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, has a far different take on the opinion from the Attorney General’s office. She maintains that even if there’s no law enforcement agency partnering with her group, anti-gun activists can still dole out cash and prizes to folks turning in their guns so long as her group waits until the firearm has been destroyed before doing so.


“You can’t give them any kind of thank you (card) until after the firearm is destroyed in front of them,” she said, noting that the firearm has ceased to be a firearm at that point.

Viscoli apparently was referring to a section of Grayson’s letter in which he wrote, “the transfer of possession at a buy-back event includes placing the firearm in a shredder that renders it ‘permanently inoperable’ such that it is no longer a firearm as defined (in the statute.)”

According to the statute in question, a “sale” is defined as “the delivery or passing of ownership, possession or control of a firearm for a fee or other consideration”, which to me suggests that so long as Viscoli’s group is promising gift cards in exchange for guns it really doesn’t matter when they actually hand over the gift certificate or debit card. It’s the promise of an exchange of goods, as opposed to an outright donation of a firearm, that makes it a sale.

If nothing else, it’s highly amusing (and completely hypocritical) to see Viscoli claim that there’s a loophole in New Mexico’s background check law that allows for her group to put on gun “buyback” programs without getting police involved. For his part, Sheriff Ferrari says he has no interest in arresting or charging Viscoli or other anti-gun activists with a misdemeanor for unlawfully transferring firearms, even if New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence hosts an event in San Juan County in the future. He says he just wants to understand what the legal process actually involves, and despite the letter from the AGs office it sounds like there’s still a fair amount of confusion surrounding the supposedly “common sense” gun control law.


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