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Legislators, sheriffs fail to agree on ‘red flag’ law

SANTA FE – A Democratic state lawmaker said Wednesday that he has been unable to work out a compromise with a group of New Mexico sheriffs on high-profile gun legislation – a proposed “red flag” law that would allow courts to order the temporary taking of firearms from individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The legislator, Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, said talks with the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association ground to a halt this summer, due to what he described as unreasonable demands, and said there’s no deal on the horizon.

“That is not going to happen,” Ely told members of an interim legislative committee during a hearing at the Roundhouse.

The lack of a deal between rural sheriffs and lawmakers who support the idea could make it more difficult for a bill to win approval during the 30-day legislative session that starts in January, but it doesn’t mean such legislation would be dead on arrival.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that the bill – officially called the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act – is a “popular idea” supported by other law enforcement officials, although she said no decision has been made as to whether the measure will be added to the session’s agenda.

“A ‘deal’ with the sheriffs was never a prerequisite for bringing forward gun safety legislation,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said.

She also said support or opposition from law enforcement officials does not determine the Lujan Grisham administration’s stance on public safety issues, saying, “Their opposition should not deter anyone who is committed to making our communities safer and ensuring our constitutional right to live in peace.”

New Mexico sheriffs turned out in force during this year’s 60-day session to oppose expanded background checks and other gun legislation, though a small number of sheriffs supported the measures.

Although several gun-related bills were signed into law by Lujan Grisham, including the background check measure, the proposed red flag law stalled in the Senate after passing the House of Representatives 39-30.

After the session ended, the first-term Democratic governor met with some New Mexico sheriffs in an attempt to improve communication and lay the groundwork for possible collaboration on public safety measures.

Some sheriffs also attended a domestic terrorism summit that Lujan Grisham convened this summer after a mass shooting in El Paso that left 22 people dead.

But that has not led to a deal on a red flag law; the Sheriffs’ Association sent a letter to the Governor’s Office in August expressing its opposition to the idea.

GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that such a law could violate the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee he was worried about using probable cause as the standard to determine whether guns should be temporarily taken away from an individual.

“If I’m going to deny you of a constitutional right, we should be using the highest standard we have,” Rehm said.

But Ely defended the standard as appropriate, while saying the bill could also lead to a decrease in New Mexico’s suicide rate, which is among the nation’s highest.

“We’re not taking guns away forever. We’re not locking people up,” Ely said. “We’re trying to save lives.”

Red flag laws have already been enacted this year in at least 15 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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