SANTA FE — Legislators tightened the scope of a proposed law Wednesday that would allow for the temporary seizure of firearms from New Mexicans deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.
Only law enforcement officers, not household or family members, would be allowed to petition the court for an extreme risk order under a version of the legislation introduced Wednesday.
The amended proposal narrowly cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee late Wednesday on a 6-5 vote.
Its next stop is the Senate floor — where supporters and opponents alike are preparing for an incredibly close vote. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a Democrat, would break a tie.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces attorney and co-sponsor of the bill, said the new version of the legislation is intended to address criticism leveled by sheriffs and other opponents of the bill.
In particular, he said, the provision requiring a law enforcement officer to petition the court — rather than allowing someone else to do it — was aimed at preventing abuse by, say, an ex-spouse seeking retaliation.
Household members could request the filing of a petition, but it would be up to a law enforcement officer to determine whether there’s “probable cause” to seek the order in court.
“We believe we’ve struck the proper balance,” Cervantes said in a packed committee room at the Capitol.
Opponents of the bill said Wednesday that the changes don’t go far enough. They still have concerns about whether the bill adequately gives someone a chance to contest an order to surrender their firearms.
“There’s gun confiscation before there’s a hearing,” Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton told lawmakers.
The proposal, Senate Bill 5, would create an Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, sometimes called a “red flag law.” Seventeen states have enacted similar laws.
Under the bill, a law enforcement officer would seek court approval for an extreme risk order if they have credible information — provided by a household member or relative — giving them probable cause to believe someone “poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others.”
A court could order the immediate, temporary seizure of the person’s firearms for up to 10 days, until a hearing can be held. After a hearing, the ban on having firearms could be extended one year.
The person wouldn’t be subject to a search warrant unless they refuse to surrender their firearms.
There are also provisions that would allow for the order to be terminated early or to be extended another year.
The proceeding would happen in the District Court where the respondent lives.
Senate Bill 5 has emerged as one of the most emotionally charged debates of the session. Supporters have testified about loved ones who died by suicide, and opponents have carried semiautomatic rifles and other firearms during visits to the Capitol.
The legislation is backed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who added it to the agenda this session.
Sponsoring the bill are Cervantes and Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Joy Garratt of Albuquerque.
Democrats hold a 26-16 edge in the Senate, though some Democrats have joined Republicans to oppose firearms legislation. In last year’s session, for example, a background checks bill barely passed the Senate, on a 22-20 vote.
The House is expected to be friendlier ground for the proposed Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, if it makes it that far. A similar bill passed the House 39-30 last year.
Wednesday’s 6-5 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee fell mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente was the lone legislator to cross party lines, voting against the bill.
“I’ve been abused and threatened by both sides,” Martinez said.
He noted that he had successfully sponsored last year’s background checks legislation for firearm sales. But he said he wasn’t convinced this year’s bill would improve public safety the way supporters say.