Defending the innocent, and holding offenders accountable, should not be a partisan issue – but it is

By Larry Sonntag

Apr 20, 2023

During New Mexico’s recent sixty-day Legislative session, numerous bills were introduced to address out-of-control crime in the state. There were some incredible statements made during committee hearings by Democrat lawmakers and progressive trial attorneys who testified against anti-crime legislation. Even print media, which is usually inclined to support progressive agendas, called out the absurdity of what was going on.

The Albuquerque Journal stated in an editorial, “You know our state has fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole when the Legislature sides with thieves over consumers, drug dealers over drug victims, and armed felons and career criminals over crime victims.”

A prime example of this occurred in a House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee hearing on HB 59 Unlawful Firearms While Trafficking. HB 59 would have enhanced penalties for those convicted of using a gun during a drug transaction. The bill stated, “Whoever commits unlawful carrying of a firearm while trafficking a controlled substance is guilty of a third-degree felony.”

As an Air Force Veteran and retired Albuquerque Police Captain, I supported this bill. My testimony to committee members, which was limited to one minute, included in part, “New Mexicans are begging for some relief from out-of-control violent crimes and HB 59 is a step in the right direction. It will serve as a deterrent for criminals and will help to hold them accountable. I urge this committee to vote ‘Yes’ and advance this legislation.”

When it came time for opposition, the New Mexico branch of the ACLU and other ‘more counseling/less incarceration’ advocates had much to say about why enhanced penalties for drug-related convictions should not be passed. One especially noteworthy comment in opposition to the bill came from Kim Chavez Cook, who works as a Public Defender. She said that the bill should not become law because those dealing with illegal drugs must be armed because what they do is dangerous.

Ms. Cook stated, “I think we all know that the presence of a firearm is often quote-unquote necessary for these folks in these situations to protect themselves because it is an inherently dangerous environment to be involved in a drug transaction.”

That was a ‘drop the mic’ moment as some legislators and others digested the upside-down logic of defending a criminal’s need to be armed.

It is a good thing I was not physically present in the committee room and was, instead, participating via the live-streaming platform in which I was muted. Otherwise, I would likely have been seen jumping out of my chair and yelling, “Are you kidding me!? Did you just say out loud that drug dealers, most of whom are repeat felons prohibited from possession of a gun, should NOT be penalized for having a gun while drug trafficking because what they do is dangerous?” 

That was just the beginning of my anger, however, as the hearing then went to legislative committee member debate on the bill. The committee chair, Rep Joanne Ferrary, was joined by other Democrat Representatives Angelica Rubio, Andrea Romero, and Liz Thomson with supportive comments to agree with the ACLU and Ms. Chavez Cook to oppose enhanced penalties for criminals using a gun during the commission of a crime. Only the Republicans on the committee, Reps John Block and Stefani Lord spoke about the need to pass this bill and other legislation to address the state’s increasing crime issues. HB 59, which would have made it a 3rd-degree felony to use a gun during a drug transaction, was tabled (killed) on a party-line vote of 4-2.

Having served as a nuclear weapons security specialist in the USAF and as an Albuquerque Police Department Captain, I was sworn to protect people and hold those who would harm innocent people accountable. My service had nothing to do with a political agenda or party affiliation. Placing the rights of innocent victims over criminals, especially repeat violent crime offenders, should not be a partisan issue, but it is. The votes to kill legislation that would target gun-toting repeat offenders speaks for itself and the above detail on HB 59 is just one of the many examples.

I hope New Mexicans understand what is truly happening in our state and will hold ‘progressive’ lawmakers accountable at election time.

Larry Sonntag is an Air Force veteran, Albuquerque Police Department retiree, and small business owner who works in support of several non-profit organizations seeking better state policies. He has lived in New Mexico for over 50 years and is hoping to see drastic changes in its current policy direction.

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