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New Mexico Advances Legislation to Curb Paramilitaries

Legislators in New Mexico are advancing legislation that will rein in private paramilitary groups.

House Bill 14 emerged Monday from the House Judiciary Committee vetting for a possible floor vote, with the backing of Democrats.

“The state constitution prohibits private paramilitary activity, but today New Mexico doesn’t have a law that’s tailored to effectively preventing paramilitary groups from mobilizing for acts of intimidation and violence,” Mark Baker, an Albuquerque attorney and expert witness for the bill, told KRQE.

Oñate Statue Protest

The proposal is partially a response to a 2020 incident when an armed group calling themselves the New Mexico Civil Guard got involved in a protest centered on the statue of early Spanish settler Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque.

It comes also as paramilitary groups have popped up in recent years to halt illegal migrants near the international border with Mexico. In 2019 there was an incident when armed members of the United Constitutional Patriots stopped migrants in southernmost New Mexico at Sunland Park.

FILE - Albuquerque police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian group, June 15, 2020, in Albuquerque, N.M. A confrontation erupted between protesters and a group of armed men who were trying to protect a statue of Spanish conquerer Juan de Oñate. New Mexico is considering legal changes to rein in unauthorized paramilitary patrols that intimidate or pose a danger. The bill emerged Monday, March, 6, 2023, from House committee vetting for a possible floor vote amid opposition from Republican legislators. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)
Albuquerque police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian group in Albuquerque, N.M. on June 15, 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP/File)

The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Raymundo Lara (D-Doña Ana), who said that it gives district attorneys new tools and discretion by making it a crime for armed paramilitary organizations to engage in public patrols capable of causing injury or death with provisions regarding intimidation.

House Bill 14 defines a paramilitary organization as a group of three or more people associating under a command structure. The bill stops people from publicly patrolling or drilling as a paramilitary group, interfering with government operations, pretending to be peace officers, and intimidating others.

The bill calls for charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the severity of the violation.

Republican Concerns

Republican House legislators have raised concerns that the proposal could interfere with neighborhood-watch-style groups that respond to crime or limit opportunities for businesses in New Mexico that have provided tactical training to visiting security forces.

Lara said the proposal doesn’t interfere with private firearms training or New Mexico’s relatively permissive gun laws that allow both open carry of firearms and concealed handguns with permit and training requirements.

“That’s going to be up to the district attorney, whether they do an investigation … (to) find out if they are connected in any way, if there’s some kind of command structure,” he said.

The Supreme Court decided in 1886 and in 2008 that the Second Amendment “does not prevent the prohibition of private military organizations.”

Armed civilian groups have been an intermittent presence on the border for years, portraying themselves as auxiliaries to the U.S. Border Patrol and operating in areas where agents are not stationed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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