Brandt wants to tighten penalties for shooting threats

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Former Rio Rancho Public Schools board member Craig Brandt, heading into the final year of his second term in the New Mexico Senate, is hopeful new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will look favorable on a bill he’ll submit during the 30-day legislative session that begins in January.

Currently, Brandt says, “It’s not a crime in this state to threaten shooting up a school.” Nor is threatening that a bomb is somewhere on a campus.

Craig Brandt

Brandt, saying it’s merely common sense, wants to see that change; first, as a deterrent, and secondly to mete out penalties.

“I found out a juvenile really doesn’t get charged with a felony. They don’t have criminal charges; they get put into the juvenile system,” he explained. “Based on what they would have been able to be charged with had they been adults — the severity of what they face in the juvenile system — they’re put into the juvenile system. There’s no record; there’s no felony on the record.”

The bill died in this year’s legislative session.

“That was what the concern was — I think it’s just partisan,” he added.

Brandt’s Senate Bill 146 last year basically changed the state’s Criminal Code to read: “It is unlawful for a person to make a school threat, and whoever commits making a school threat is guilty of a fourth-degree felony.”

The phrase “school threat” meant a specific, unconditional threat to commit any offense involving violence to a person on school property or to harm school property, made in a way that conveyed immediate intent to provoke a reaction from authorities, place a person in fear of great bodily harm and/or prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a school building, according to the legislation.

“All we’re trying to do is bring parity with what we already have for a bomb threat — a bomb threat is a fourth-degree felony. A shooting threat is not — all they ever charge anyone with on a shooting threat is ‘interfering with the educational process,’ which is a petty misdemeanor. In fact, it’s not even high enough that they can ever refer them to the juvenile court system,” he added. “So if it’s a minor, nothing happens to them.

“(But) not all of them are minors: There have been cases throughout the country where a parent has called in a shooting threat because their child wasn’t ready to take a test, things like that.

“It blows your mind (that) this kind of ridiculousness happens.”

Brandt was asked what happens if the person issuing such a threat was an elementary student, as young as 10 or even 8 years of age? Could charges be brought against a parent?

“There’s possibly some kind of charge that could be brought against the parent, but if the parent doesn’t know that the child has done it, how do you hold the parent responsible?” he said. “I think once they bring a gun to school, that’s different.

“Raising your kids, you don’t think that they would ever do that. They’re in school and there was shooting threat called in, so they all get out of school today. Some of these kids, that’s all they think about … They don’t think through all the repercussions of doing that, which is one of the reasons you don’t charge a minor with a felony. They go into the juvenile system to hopefully help them mature, help them realize it’s just something you don’t do.”

Brandt played devil’s advocate: “Honestly, which is worse today, calling in a bomb threat or calling in a shooting threat?

“So we’ve got a felony for a bomb threat — a school or any other building — but yet, you really haven’t had a lot of buildings blown up. But it’s not a felony for a shooting threat and that happened today (Nov. 14 in Santa Clarita, Cal.)…

“Someone calls a shooting threat to a school, I’m not sending my kid back until I’m absolutely and 100 percent sure that it’s safe.”

Thus, Brandt hopes others realize, common sense should dictate more measures against shooting threats.

“If we’re not taking this subject seriously, there’s nothing law enforcement can do,” he concluded. “We have a hard enough time with education in this state as it is. How many students are missing days of school because of shooting threats and not getting that education that they need?”

Brandt is hopeful SB 146 will have traction in the upcoming 55th Legislature, despite some opposition from an attorney who “doesn’t want any new crimes added to the books.”

“To me, it’s common sense,” Brandt said. “I’m going to bring both (Senate Bills 146 and 148) of these back; they won’t be heard unless the governor puts them on the docket. … We’ll see what happens.”

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