In New Mexico, guns have played an integral role in our state’s history, and they continue to be an important part of many people’s lives, for both hunting and for personal protection. And yet, despite the great respect most of our citizens have for the firearms they possess, we have not been immune to school violence. Both Roswell and Aztec have grieved following deadly school shootings, Clovis suffered a fatal shooting in its public library, and this month there was an initial panic that the Santa Fe tragedy was occurring in our own capital city.
The United States Supreme Court, in the 2007 Heller vs. DC case, found, “on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.” The court found this right to protect those weapons typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. However, the Supreme Court also reminds us that no right is unlimited, and that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or . . . laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
I was raised by two teachers and was a teacher myself. I am married to an educator, and our daughter will soon be entering school. For us, the safety of children and the school community is paramount. As a state, we can do better, and we must. No student should live believing that a school shooting is inevitable. It is possible to respect the constitutional right of law-abiding adults to bear arms while also providing a safer environment for our children. Accordingly, in the next session of the Legislature, I will sponsor or support the following:
• Legislation to create a red-flag rule, which is an extreme risk protection order to authorize court-ordered firearm prohibitions against persons who are found to present a substantial and imminent danger to themselves or others. In place in over a half dozen states, these protection orders permit a judge to evaluate specific, articulable concerns raised about an individual who may pose a threat. The ACLU has cautioned that such laws should provide proper due process protections. Done correctly, however, extreme-risk protection orders can be an important tool in temporarily removing firearms from volatile situations and keeping our community safe.
• Legislation that extends existing lawful background checks to commercial sales. This will continue to protect law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights. However, for those whom the Supreme Court has found are not protected by the Second Amendment, it will make it more difficult to purchase a firearm. Such legislation should also provide protections for those responsible gun owners and dealers who make use of such background checks.
• Legislation that establishes a hot line available to students where reports of early warnings can be reported. While the early reports are that the latest school shooter did not evince clear signs of impending violence, most school shooters have communicated signs of the violence they wrought. These hot lines must be professionally staffed and permit students to communicate by voice or text.
There is no perfect solution. But we owe it to our children to take reasonable and constitutional measures to ensure their safety. One of the students who died in Santa Fe, Texas, was a foreign-exchange student whose parents entrusted their daughter to study in the United States. Showing remarkable composure, her father stated: “One should not lose his heart by such kind of incidents. … One must go for education undeterred. But controlling such incidents is the responsibility of the respective governments.” He is right on all counts.