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Governor to again seek red flag law

Proposed legislation would allow a judge to seize weapons and ammunition from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – A controversial proposal to allow firearms to be temporarily taken away from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others is being brought back this year, after stalling in a Senate committee last March.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently announced she would add the proposed red-flag gun law to the agenda of the 30-day 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 said during a news conference in Las Cruces this month.

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.

The bill is expected to draw fierce resistance from the National Rifle Association and rural sheriffs, who turned out in force during last year’s 60-day session to oppose a red-flag gun law bill and other gun control legislation.

“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,” said Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, the chairman of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association.

However, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, 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.”

Other sponsors of this year’s legislation, Senate Bill 5, are Reps. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque.

“This bill is a good balance between people’s rights to bear arms and public safety,” Ely said.

Lujan Grisham has pushed for tighter gun laws since taking office in January 2019 and convened a domestic terrorism summit after the El Paso shooting last summer.

While some sheriffs attended that summit and later met with Ely about the proposed red-flag gun law, the talks did not lead to a deal.

A Governor’s Office spokesman recently 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.”

But the governor has also said she will try to persuade more sheriffs to back this year’s bill, after all but a few sheriffs opposed last year’s measure.

If approved, Ely said the law would help prevent suicides, which account for 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.

Journal staff writers Dan McKay and Dan Boyd contributed to this report.