ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – There’s a push in the roundhouse to essentially ban private militias in New Mexico. In the past few years, we’ve seen controversy as armed and uniformed paramilitary groups showed up at protests, and along the border. This bill is partially in response to what happened in Albuquerque in 2020 when a group calling themselves the New Mexico Civil Guard got involved in the Oñate statue protest.
“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,” says Mark Baker, Albuquerque attorney and expert witness for the bill.
House Bill 14 defines a paramilitary organization as a group with three or more people associating under a command structure. It stops people from publicly patrolling or drilling as a paramilitary group, interfering with government operations, pretending to be peace officers, or intimidating other people.
The discussion also cited an incident when a paramilitary group was stopping and detaining people on the Mexican border—experts saying that case led to federal charges, but not state.
No one from the public spoke in opposition to this bill, but Republican Representatives John Block and Martin Zamora voiced their concerns about Second Amendment rights and how much latitude this would give prosecutors. “I’m thinking of rural areas. It may be a very long time until police can get there to the scene. And [an] insurrection that happens, people start storming a building and good Samaritans, Madam Chair, Representative, who may or may not be armed are protecting that building and the public employees within it…I think that this could potentially charge them when they’re just trying to do a civic duty as an American to protect their fellow Americans,” Block said.
The bill calls for charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony depending on the severity of the violation.
Baker said this law does fall within constitutional parameters, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paramilitary activity can be regulated by the states. “It also falls within constitutional parameters. Justice Scalia in District of Columbia vs. Heller recognized the Second Amendment as an individual right; in that decision, cited an 1886 case noting that private paramilitary activity can be regulated by the states,” Baker said.
The bill passed the House Government Committee on a six to two-vote. It heads to the House Judiciary Committee.