SANTA FE — New Mexico appears on track to become the nation’s 18th state with a red-flag gun law, after a divided Senate voted 22-20 on Friday to approve a bill that would allow firearms to be temporarily seized from those deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
The narrow vote to approve the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Law sent the bill on to the House with just over two weeks left in the 30-day legislative session.
It also prompted at least one county sheriff to suggest the proposed law would be challenged in court if signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
However, the Democratic governor and other supporters expressed confidence in the bill’s constitutionality, saying it was based on similar laws passed in other states.
“We have an obligation to every single New Mexican, every single family, every single child that we do everything in our power that can provide just that additional layer of safety and public support,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference after Friday’s vote.
This year’s red flag gun bill, Senate Bill 5, has divided New Mexico’s law enforcement ranks. Thirty of the state’s 33 county sheriffs oppose the measure, while State Police Chief Tim Johnson and top Albuquerque Police Department officials support it.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, the bill’s sponsor, evoked the mass shooting in El Paso last year in which a gunmen killed 22 people — and allegedly targeted those of Mexican descent — in making his case for the legislation on the Senate floor.
“Too many of these mass killings, and suicides, people are telling friends, principals and schoolmates about their plans,” said Cervantes, who described himself as a gun owner and concerned father. “And yet despite that knowledge, nothing is done.”
However, critics said the measure would violate New Mexicans’ constitutional rights and questioned whether it would prevent future tragedies.
“How can you have probable cause with no offense?” asked Sen. Greg Baca, R-Los Lunas. “You don’t have a chance to defend yourself on that.”
Under the bill, which was revised as it moved through the Senate, only law enforcement officers, not family members or coworkers, would be able to file a petition in state court for an order to prohibit someone from possessing firearms.
However, law enforcement officials would have to explain their decision in writing if they opted not to seek a judge’s order after receiving a report.
If a judge found sufficient evidence that an individual posed a threat to themselves or others, an emergency 10-day order requiring them to relinquish their firearms would be issued. A one-year order could then be imposed after a court hearing.
Similar laws have been enacted in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Although the laws differ, many states enacted them in response to mass shootings, such as the February 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
Four Democratic senators joined Republicans in casting “no” votes on the bill — Sens. Gabriel Ramos of Silver City, John Arthur Smith of Deming, Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente, and Clemente Sanchez of Grants.
If one more Democrat had voted against the measure, the tie would have been broken in favor of the legislation by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who presides over the Senate.