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Green light for red flag bill

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Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, presents the extreme risk protection bill on the House Floor in Santa Fe Thursday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico lawmakers pushed weeks of tearful debate to a close late Thursday with passage of a red flag gun law – the final approval necessary to send the bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The state House passed the proposal 39-31 after about three hours of debate, putting New Mexico on track to become the 18th state in the nation with such a law.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5, would allow for the court-ordered seizure of guns from individuals deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others. It would establish an Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.

Intensely personal stories surfaced as lawmakers debated the bill.

Choked with emotion, Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque told his colleagues about trying to keep a cousin from killing herself. Police found Celena Alarid dead in mid-December.

“We pleaded with her to give us the handgun,” Maestas said. “We could not get the handgun out of her possession. We had no legal remedy.”

Republican lawmakers, in turn, raised the prospect of deadly confrontations between families and police officers who show up to seize firearms.

“I’m just afraid we’re going to have a dead police officer or a dead mom or dad who feel like their rights were infringed on,” said Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington.

The gun bill is at the center of perhaps the most emotionally charged debate of the 2020 session.

Through tears, supporters spoke to lawmakers during committee hearings about their grief after finding a relative dead from suicide.

Opponents, in turn, testified about surviving domestic abuse and the safety provided by a firearm. Some carried semiautomatic rifles to the Roundhouse as a demonstration of their Second Amendment rights.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat elected in 2018, made the legislation a priority this session. Thirty of the state’s 33 sheriffs, by contrast, opposed the bill.

The governor said she will sign the legislation. It would go into effect 90 days after the Legislature’s adjournment Thursday next week.

“This is a tremendous victory for New Mexicans’ public safety” she said in a written statement. “This tool will empower law enforcement to keep our communities safer. It will minimize the plain and unacceptable risks of gun violence and suicide all across New Mexico.”

‘Significant danger’

Senate Bill 5 would allow law enforcement officers – acting on information provided by a relative, school administrator or employer – to seek a court order prohibiting someone from having firearms.

The officer’s decision to file a petition would be based on whether there’s probable cause to believe the individual “poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others.”

A court could order the temporary seizure of the person’s firearms for up to 10 days, until a hearing could be held. After a hearing, the ban could be extended one year.

In response to sheriffs who threatened to refuse to enforce the law, the proposal also says law enforcement officers wouldn’t be immune to liability if they failed to carry out their duties under the extreme risk act or other state laws.

The legislation moved briskly through the Legislature this year, passing two Senate committees before clearing the full Senate 22-20 last week. A House committee granted approval earlier this week, and the full House took it up Thursday evening.

By contrast, a similar proposal in 2019 stalled in the Senate after passing the House.

This year’s bill was jointly sponsored by Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Joy Garratt of Albuquerque and Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.

Intense debate

Much of Thursday’s debate fell along party lines. Democrats hold a 46-24 edge in the House.

Ely and Garratt said the proposal was a reasonable, constitutionally permitted tool that could address New Mexico’s high suicide rate and the threat of mass shootings.

Garratt, a teacher, said it’s traumatic for children as young as 5 to go through exercises teaching them how to hide from a shooter.

“Some kids are now scared to go to school,” she said.

Garratt noted that Thursday’s debate came the day before the second anniversary of the shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Republican lawmakers slammed the proposal as a breach of gun owners’ constitutional rights. A police officer could show up at someone’s door seeking their firearms, they said, based on a false allegation.

The bill “was probably written by a committee of people who don’t know how the real world works,” said Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad.

All 24 Republicans in the House voted against the bill. They held up copies of the state Constitution as they cast their votes against the bill.

They were joined by seven Democrats who opposed it Thursday – Harry Garcia of Grants, Raymundo Lara of Chamberino, Willie Madrid of Chaparral, Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez of Silver City, Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque, Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde and Candie Sweetser of Deming.


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