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The New Mexico Legislature has finally passed a rule banning guns in the state Capitol building. Now, they need to provide that same common-sense protection for local school boards and city councils.
The Legislative Council Committee, which includes leaders from both parties and chambers and meets each month when the Legislature is not in session, passed the new rule on an 8-5 vote, with all Republicans in opposition.
Past attempts to ban firearms at the Roundhouse through legislation have failed, following contentious committee hearings that always included people providing public input with rifles slung over their shoulders and pistols strapped to their hips. Not everyone spoke. Some just sat in the committee room glaring menacingly those from the other side, while gently stroking their guns.
“There are places where firearms just shouldn’t be part of the process, and they shouldn’t be part of free speech. And the Roundhouse is one of them,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told the Associated Press.
City Hall is another.
In 2018, the Las Cruces City Council had to move a work session to a building other than City Hall in order to have a discussion about guns without having one side armed to the teeth.
An earlier meeting to consider a proposed statement in support of a ban on semi-automatic gun sales attracted well-armed opponents who made their presence known both inside the meeting and outside the building. Councilor Yvonne Flores said she felt intimidated by a man in the front row holding an AR-15 rifle, who made a rude gesture to her following one of her comments.
Which, of course, was exactly what the man in the front row had intended. It was an obvious attempt to stifle debate through unspoken threats of violence. And it worked. The City Council tabled the issue.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima said that, while guns are prohibited in all federal buildings, and will now also be banned in the Roundhouse, local governments do not have the authority under state law to restrict weapons in their buildings.
Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, who is one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, said new threats, such as those following the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, have forced the Legislature to reconsider its traditionally permissive attitude toward guns.
“It is the way the world is making us do things now,” he explained. Has he not seen what is going on at school board meetings all over the country?
I moved to New Mexico shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when security was being beefed up everywhere. Big cement planters were installed all around the perimeter of the Roundhouse to prevent anybody from being able to drive a truck up to it.
Going through metal detectors and having our bags checked became a way of life anytime we entered any crowded space. And so, I was slack-jawed the first time I saw a guy with a gun on his hip waltz past the State Police officer stationed at the entrance of the Roundhouse. Code of the West, I was told.
Republicans argued that carrying weapons in the Roundhouse was a form of free expression, which is true. But it was an expression wrapped in threat. The new rule will allow more people to express their opinions without fear, and will ultimately strengthen our democracy at the state level. The same must now be done at the local level.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org