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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
LAS CRUCES – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling on state lawmakers to pass a red flag law during this legislative session, saying it would save lives in New Mexico.
“This is a temporary removal of a firearm from an individual who poses an extreme risk or threat to themselves or others,” the governor told a news conference in Las Cruces at the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office.
She was flanked by Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
Under the proposed legislation, a law enforcement officer or family member could request an extreme-risk protection order but would have to provide a sworn affidavit explaining in detail why the order is needed.
A judge would review the petition and determine if probable cause exists to issue a 15-day emergency order to seize weapons and ammunition. During those 15 days, the judge would schedule a hearing to decide if there is cause for a one-year order.
When the order expires, the guns and ammunition would be returned.
Cervantes said the mass shooting at a Walmart in nearby El Paso in August that left 22 dead showed the clear need for a red flag law.
“The tragedy of the Walmart shooting is even more deplorable because the shooter, the killer, the murderer published a manifesto before the shooting online, announced his intentions, specifically to target Mexicans, said he wanted to assure Hispanics did not have the voting voice in this country,” Cervantes said. “Yet with that warning, with that manifesto published and known, no action was taken.”
The legislation is to be co-sponsored by Cervantes, Ely and Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, and is expected to be pre-filed ahead of the session, which begins Jan. 21.
“This bill is a good balance between people’s rights to bear arms and public safety,” Ely said. “It protects the public. It protects people who might be an imminent threat of suicide, and it protects law enforcement. That’s what this bill does.”
Sheriff Stewart introduced the governor at Wednesday’s news conference.
During last year’s 60-day legislative session, all but a few of the state’s sheriffs opposed a red flag bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
Tony Mace, chairman of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, said, “Currently, the way that Senate bill and legislation reads, we will oppose it.”
Lujan Grisham has said she will try to persuade more sheriffs to back this bill.
Ely met with a few of the association’s members over the summer, but the talks did not lead to a compromise, said Mace, sheriff of Cibola County.
Ely said, “I’m confident that we are going to get this bill out of the house and out of the Senate and to the Governor’s Office. We can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s happening with guns in our community.”
Last year, 29 of 33 members of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association opposed the red flag bill, according to Mace.
“At the end of the day, if you have not committed a crime, you cannot be denied your constitutional right to bear arms. That’s what it boils down to,” Mace said.
Ely said the law will help prevent suicides, which account 70% of all firearm deaths in New Mexico. The state’s suicide rate is at least 50% higher than the national rate.
If legislators pass the law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia with extreme risk protection orders.
Garratt said in a news release from the Governor’s Office: “It’s time we pass common-sense legislation that addresses the scourge that is gun violence in our communities.”
But Zac Fort, president of the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association, said his organization will oppose the red flag law this session.
Previous versions of the bill, he said, have failed to protect the rights of gun owners. An entirely false allegation, for example, could result in abridging a person’s Second Amendment rights, he said.
Lujan Grisham said this bill assures due process for gun owners.
“You have to have a sworn affidavit. You’re under oath, so there are real repercussions for someone who might use this in a negative way, because that’s not the intent here at all,” she said.
Journal staff writers Dan McKay and Dan Boyd contributed to this report.