AZTEC — The San Juan County Sheriff delivered a message on gun control from sheriffs across the state to Roundhouse policy makers in Santa Fe Thursday afternoon.

The message was to stick to the Second Amendment and existing laws.

New Mexico Sheriffs Association members held a state Capitol press conference to announce that 29 of the 33 sheriff's in New Mexico stood behind the right to bear arms. The sheriffs in McKinley, Mora, Sandoval and Curry counties didn't include their names in the release.

The association wanted to take an early stance on gun control "just to get ahead of this thing and say We are going to honor our oath and our oath says we will uphold and honor the Constitution,'" said San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen, chairman of the sheriffs association.

He said in the wake of the recent public shootings he's fielded questions from San Juan County residents concerned their gun rights might be threatened.

Christesen said existing gun laws provide all the oversight needed to control guns and ammunition. More regulations, such as limiting the amount of bullets in a magazine, are a waste of resources and won't decrease gun violence, he said.

"We've always had gun crimes in San Juan County. It doesn't matter if it was a single-shot shot gun, an AK-47 or a lever action 30-30. People are still going to do what they do," he said. "But at least guns give you a chance to protect yourself.

"I don't think we need to change anything with guns. Especially when it comes to taking away people's rights.



Christesen said the best way to respond to the recent shootings is to use existing laws to keep guns away from convicted felons and mentally ill people.

"It's not a gun problem it's a criminal problem," he said.

There has been gun-control legislation proposed at the state and federal level in recent days.

The White House on Wednesday released a plan to strengthen gun control by improving background checks and requiring them for all gun sales, including private sales, banning assault weapons and limiting the size of ammunition magazines.

In New Mexico, Rep. Miguel Garcia, a Bernalillo County Democrat, introduced a bill in the New Mexico House of Representatives that would create a department to do a thorough background check for all gun buyers, whether they buy from a shop, person or gun show.

The bill would stop anyone from owning a gun if they are younger than 18, a fugitive, have been convicted or indicted of a felony in any jurisdiction, are addicted to alcohol or drugs, were dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, have a restraining order against them, have been convicted of a misdemeanor for domestic violence or have been prohibited by federal law or another jurisdiction from buying or having a firearm.

Garcia's bill would make it a misdemeanor to sell a gun without doing a background check.

On the other side of the aisle, a state representative is trying to keep any potential national gun-control law out of New Mexico.

Rep. Nora Espinoza, a Republican from Roswell, introduced a bill this week that would make if a felony punishable up to three years in prison if a firearm dealer tried to "enforce any act, law, statute, rule or regulation of the U.S. government relating to a personal firearm."

Espinoza's bill would also make it illegal to ban semi-automatic firearms or require people to register their firearms.

Rep. Tom Taylor, a Farmington Republican, said he hasn't looked over any of the recently introduced gun-control legislation but he would be hesitant to support a bill that would restrict gun rights.

"When you pass laws it's law-abiding people that pay attention to those and the other folks don't," he said. "I think the Second Amendment is pretty clear and I'd be reluctant to support anything that violates the ability of a person to protect themselves."

He said it's the criminals, not guns, that deserve attention.

"It's the finger pulling the trigger, not the gun, that's the problem," he said.