Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez isn’t willing to sit on the political and prosecutorial sidelines as the gun debate plays out in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the horrific school shooting in Florida.
Yes, Torrez wants to see some legislative changes at the state level, and those will take time. But in the meantime he says cracking down on gun violence will be the “top priority” of his office. And when it comes to gun crime in Albuquerque, his office is where the rubber meets the road.
For starters, Torrez says he will seek pretrial detention of anyone charged with a felony while in possession a firearm – meaning that if judges agree, those defendants would not be eligible for release while awaiting trial.
“Armed felons are the very definition of someone who does not belong on the streets of this community,” he said. Amen to that. Stick a gun in a fast food worker’s face during a holdup and you should cool your heels in jail while awaiting trial.
There is now room at the Metropolitan Detention Center, and recent decisions by the state Supreme Court give judges leeway to hold such defendants by allowing them to consider the nature of the crime charged. And let’s face it: monitoring and ankle bracelets are a joke for anyone bent on committing harm.
New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a law this year increasing the penalty for felon in possession of a firearm from a third-degree felony punishable by 18 months to a third-degree punishable by three years – but it was watered down to apply only if the prior conviction was a capital offense or violent crime.
Legislation that would have bumped the penalty for using a firearm during a crime from one to three years died in committee.
Torrez, starting just his second year in office, also said he is devoting at least three more full-time gun prosecutors to refer any federally eligible case for potential prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. These prosecutors would be cross-trained as assistant U.S. attorneys and be able to prosecute cases in federal court as well as state court. That would include crimes such as felon in possession of a firearm, which state law has treated as a slap on the wrist compared with tough sentences in federal court. In fact, like firearm enhancement during a felony, it is a charge that historically was often bargained away.
Torrez also is calling on state legislators to pass laws supporting mandatory background checks before purchasing a gun, mandatory surrender of firearms of anyone convicted of domestic violence and a “red-flag” law that would allow family members or intimate partners to seek a civil court order removing guns from people the court deems to be dangerous. He also wants tougher penalties for people who make threats against schools. And we’ve had a rash of threats here, not to mention the arrests of three juveniles at Albuquerque High School last week after APS police found a handgun and a rifle in a car.
Torrez, a Democrat, is a gun owner who has a concealed carry permit. And the Second Amendment isn’t going away any time soon – no matter how much some people wish it would.
But even ardent supporters of the Second Amendment should be able to agree with Torrez when he says, “One of the things I think everyone needs to finally come to terms with is that there are people in society, either by virtue of prior criminal acts or mental instability, that should just not possess a firearm.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.