ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico’s governor is feuding with county sheriffs, accusing them of going “rogue” by refusing to enforce new gun control legislation. Counties in Oregon are passing militia-backed measures against stricter gun laws. Washington State is warning sheriffs they could face legal action if they don’t run enhanced background checks approved by voters.
As states have approved dozens of restrictive gun control measures since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year, efforts to resist such laws have gathered strength around the nation as rural gun owners say their rights are being violated.
“This is just a gun-grab measure,” Shane Ferrari, the sheriff of San Juan County, said of a provision that requires background checks on most gun sales in New Mexico, signed into law this month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
Sheriff Ferrari, a Republican, said he believed that the new law was a violation of the Second Amendment and the state’s existing gun laws, and that he would not enforce it unless a court ruling told him to do so. And all but a handful of counties in New Mexico have expressed similar opposition.
The impasses — between local sheriffs and elected officials in states now controlled by Democrats — are raising the specter of a constitutional showdown over enforcement of the new gun laws. Some of the gun rights advocates say they are simply drawing inspiration from strategies employed by liberal critics of the Trump administration: They compare their efforts to declare “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties to so-called sanctuary cities opposing the federal government’s immigration crackdown.
“Critics are calling these new laws Gestapo-style tactics when that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” said Victor Snover, the mayor of Aztec, a town in San Juan County that was shaken by a school shooting in 2017 in which a former student killed two students and himself.
Mr. Snover, a Democrat who is also a teacher at Aztec High School, called the measure “common sense and reasonable.” He added, “But unfortunately we live in a hyperpartisan time when avoiding tragedies isn’t viewed as reasonable.”
In New Mexico and elsewhere, the disputes generally reflect tension between cities that support stricter gun laws and rural areas that want to bolster protections for gun owners. The pushback against new laws generally seeks to maintain existing gun ownership rights; most have not yet been challenged in court.
The disputes around the country over the gun control measures raise vexing questions about the rule of law. Governors claim that local sheriffs cannot pick which laws to enforce, but some states have already grappled with low compliance with other gun laws.
“There’s a real tension on this issue between urban and rural identities that doesn’t necessarily fit nicely into party loyalties,” said Lonna Atkeson, a political-science professor at the University of New Mexico. She noted that some of the counties vehemently opposing the state’s new gun control legislation are solidly Democratic.
Elsewhere, dozens of counties in Illinois have approved “gun sanctuary” resolutions meant to signal local discontent with gun control measures approved by the State Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats.
Among the measures approved by Illinois last year was one requiring a 72-hour waiting period for all gun purchases and a so-called red flag bill, which allows relatives and law enforcement officials to ask courts to confiscate firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
In Oregon, where the State Legislature is currently debating several gun control measures — including a bill that would forbid the sale of assault rifles to people under 21 — voters in eight counties have approved ordinances stating that residents have the right to own semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, even if federal and state law bans them.
Some of the most public discontent, however, has come in Washington, where a divide between rural and urban areas has become a recurring political split.
In November, nearly 60 percent of Washington State voters approved an initiative prohibiting anyone under 21 from purchasing a semiautomatic rifle and requiring buyers to undergo enhanced background checks. (State law already barred those under 21 from buying a handgun.) Long guns that employ manual operations, including pumps and bolts, could still be purchased at age 18.
The law also mandated a 10-day waiting period and completion of a firearms training course. The initiative also allowed prosecutors to charge gun owners with crimes if the gun was stored improperly and someone unable to legally own a gun used it to commit a crime.
Most of the law is scheduled to take effect July 1, though the Second Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Washington State that supports gun rights, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block it.
Already, though, more than a dozen sheriffs in Washington have said they will refuse to enforce the law.
That has set up a showdown between them and Bob Ferguson, the attorney general.
Mr. Ferguson has warned the sheriffs that they have a legal responsibility to enforce the new law in the same manner they are sworn to uphold other laws prohibiting criminal activity.
“Local law enforcement officials are entitled to their opinions about the constitutionality of any law, but those personal views do not absolve us of our duty to enforce Washington laws and protect the public,” Mr. Ferguson wrote in a letter last month.
But Bob Songer, the sheriff of Klickitat County, a rural county in southern Washington, said that the law violated gun owners’ rights.
“There is no way in hell I’m going to be going after their guns if they are honest citizens,” he said. “What I’ve told people is: I’m not giving up my guns, and I don’t expect them to give up theirs.”
The sheriff dismissed the pressure from the state’s attorney general to abide by the law.
“They are not the boss of the sheriff,” he said. “The only bosses I have are the voters of Klickitat County.”