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New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association: For the People or for the NRA?

Brady report shows pervasive influence of gun lobby throughout New Mexico law enforcement

Washington, D.C., May 20, 2019 — After members of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association (NMSA) publicly announced that they would refuse to enforce common-sense gun violence prevention (GVP) laws in their state, Brady set out to learn just what - and who - was behind the declaration. Today, the gun violence prevention organization is confirming not only that the National Rifle Association was deeply involved in messaging with the sheriffs, but that the NMSA’s work culture made them a ripe target for the gun lobby’s influence. A new report from Brady summarizes the hundreds of pages obtained through Inspection of Public Record Act (IPRA) requests demonstrating how New Mexico’s “rogue sheriffs” made the gun lobby’s priorities their own and placed them ahead of serving the public interest.

Read the report - “Rogue Sheriffs in New Mexico: Who Do They Serve?

Brady president Kris Brown stated,

“From the moment we heard these rogue sheriffs would refuse to enforce common sense laws to prevent gun violence, we had a strong feeling about who might be involved. We aren’t happy with what we discovered, but we aren’t surprised, either. The New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association is an old boys club, full of members who have no issues mocking their colleagues and anyone they disagree with behind closed doors. This is a group primed for the NRA’s pervasive influence, and now we know that the sheriffs welcomed them in with open arms. The people of New Mexico - not to mention in every state where sheriffs see themselves as being above the law - deserve to know why their law enforcement officers are putting themselves ahead of their own public safety.”

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, added:

"So-called ‘Second Amendment sanctuary cities’ damage the power balance between the branches of government by usurping power from the legislative and judicial branches. This sets a very dangerous precedent and leaves people unsure of the process of their own government. We live in a society based on the rule of law. If the people with guns — our sheriffs — believe they can pick and choose the laws they intend to acknowledge and enforce, we no longer live in the democracy we cherish so dearly.”

Brady issued IPRA requests on March 27, 2019 seeking all communications related to the declaration, aiming to learn how these rogue sheriffs determined that they could unilaterally ignore state laws and determine their constitutionality without the courts. As of the time of this report, 14 counties have produced 1,615 pages in response to Brady’s requests.

Throughout the documents, several themes emerged:

The NRA was actively involved in the NMSA’s declaration

NRA-funded lobbyists were in constant contact with NMSA President Tony Mace leading up to and following the passage of laws to expand gun background checks and to expand prohibitory domestic violence crimes in the state. From the report:

“[They] directly influenced and supported Mace’s crusade against the new GVP laws. Through these lobbyists, the NRA authored and sent Mace and the sheriffs documents such as op-eds to send to their local newspapers (in the sheriffs’ own names) and letters to send to state and local politicians opposing the GVP legislation. There is no indication the sheriffs disclosed that the NRA was behind the work product.”

Documents also show that the NRA was granted time to debrief the sheriffs on “anti-gun bills” at the January 2019 NMSA Affiliate legislative conference, with Mace also asking organization members to attend an NRA-ILA legislative workshop in February. Mace frequently distributed NRA talking points and legal positions about the bills to sheriffs throughout the state, and found a willing audience. When asked about the bills, one sheriffs admitted he had not read an amendment, “[b]ut I still stand with my original stand that I oppose any bill on gun control.”

A lack of respect for the rule of law

Beyond the NRA’s direct influence, the NMSA sheriffs showed a clear hostility to various branches of government in New Mexico. Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton complained about “Kangaroo Courts,” while Mace referred to policymakers in the state as “vapid.” Mace also seems to view local sheriffs as being above the law and omnipotent. From the report:

“In a bizarre email to state Senator Clemente Sanchez, Mace claimed: ‘The sheriff is the CEO of all the courts in his/her county and can easily strike down any court ruling or verdict as he sees fit”; ‘The Sheriff has more power in his County than the President of the United States of America’; and ‘The Constitutional Sheriff… will then attend to the straight lawful business of arresting each and every Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, BAR Attorney and any Police Officer who has violated our rights on charges of treason and conspiracy.”

Several sheriffs also showed contempt towards domestic violence laws, dismissing the links between domestic violence and firearms. San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari said that it “seem a little much” for someone to lose their firearms rights after keying a girlfriend’s car, and later minimized the seriousness of the issue by writing, “Guy throws the wedding album in the fire. There goes his firearms.” Sheriff Hamilton also referred to New Mexico’s domestic violence legislation as a “piece of crap bill.”

An echo chamber of conspiracy and extremism

Within the NMSA, a pattern of right-wing conspiracies frequently emerged. Some sheriffs stated that passing gun violence prevention bills would be “selling out the rights of your constituents to a New York Billionaire,” and Mace circulated literature opposing the gun safety bills which had been drafted by a woman named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as heading an “extreme antigovernment group.” Other emails focused on theories that Democrats and gun violence prevention advocates are gun-grabbing socialists. From the report:

“On March 2, Mace received an email from a constituent which said [sic]: ‘I applaud each and every one of the Sheriffs who is standing up to the onslaught of socialist Democrats plan on unarming the law abiding citizen and spread their vile socialism which we be fighting since the 1950’s… [S]ince oba-mao [I] have been wondering ‘What the hell are the Democrats and RHINOs doing to our country and how the hell can we stop it?’’ Mace, seemingly from a place of pride, thanked the constituent and noted that he would be forwarding the communication to all sheriffs.”

When one sheriff emailed Mace stating that she was not in support of the declaration, fearing the theory was “conspiratorial [and] convoluted,” and asking to withdraw her NMSA membership, Mace removed her from the email thread and forwarded it on to other sheriffs. Among the comments that followed were one sheriff stating that “Maybe she would be a better fit for the counties south of our border,” while another “wonder[ed] what constitution she took her oath of office to.”

The full report, “Rogue Sheriffs in New Mexico: Who Do They Serve?” can be found here.

While the rogue sheriffs made clear that they were against “any gun legislation” and saw such efforts as “allow[ing] anti-gun politicians to dictate to you what you can and can’t do with a firearm in your home,” the fact is that laws such as the ones passed by New Mexico’s democratically-elected legislature save lives. The documents, in contrast, show no serious discussion about reducing gun violence in New Mexico.

Further public record requests have been filed in Nevada, and additional efforts are currently under consideration.

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Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in the common sense. In the spirit of our founders Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 25 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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