Looks as if 2019 NM gun law is not actually being enforced - Albuquerque Journal

Looks as if 2019 NM gun law is not actually being enforced

In 2019, a group of gun control advocates cheered as a bill they helped write and rewrite, lobbied and fought for was signed into law.

The bill, known during that legislative session as SB 328, requires people subject to an order of protection to relinquish their firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours of the order being filed. The weapons are then held for the duration of the order.

The law, part of the state Family Violence Protection Act, also applies to people convicted of such domestic violence crimes as battery on a household member, criminal damage to property of a household member or stalking.

It took five years and three legislative sessions to get the Domestic Violence Firearm Relinquishment bill passed, the 2017 effort making it all the way to the desk of then-Gov.Susana Martinez only to be vetoed.

“In a way, that was a good thing because the bill that finally made it is a revised and very good, very strong bill,” said Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, which fought for it.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill in April 2019.

“A woman is five times more likely to be killed when a firearm is involved in a domestic violence incident,” Lujan Grisham said in signing the bill, which went into effect on July 1 that year. “This new law will save lives.”

But, 29 months later, it’s hard to discern whether the law itself is live and functioning as it’s supposed to in some parts of the state, including Bernalillo County.

After struggling for days to find anybody in the department with information on how — or whether — it had implemented the relinquishment law, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said on Friday that meetings are expected to be held this month to create a policy to address the law.

The meetings will include an APD domestic violence advocate, two deputy chiefs and the gun violence reduction unit, along with representatives from the court and from New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence.

It should not have taken this long, though, to just start talking about a law that’s been on the books for 29 months and for countless restraining orders.

Repeated requests to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department went unanswered.

I became curious as to how the bill was working — or not working — because of a young woman who, two months ago, left a dangerous relationship and filed for an order of protection, also known as a restraining order. Her story appeared in this column, published Oct. 9.

On Nov. 8, a state District Court hearing officer issued a one-year order of protection against her former partner, found him to be a “credible threat” to the woman and ordered that he relinquish his weapons to law enforcement within 48 hours, which is how the relinquishment law is supposed to work.

Videos of her partner showed him brandishing a recently purchased AR-15, and the woman was aware that he had started amassing a small arsenal of weapons.

Under the law, the ex-partner is supposed to turn in all firearms to APD, which would then issue a receipt for the weapons. The restrained party is then supposed to turn in the receipt to the court within 72 hours as proof that all weapons had been relinquished.

The court is then supposed to notify the complainant that the receipt was received and the guns are safely locked away from the ex-partner. The complainant is supposed to then examine the receipt and determine if any known weapons had not been turned in and notify the court of the discrepancy. If a discrepancy is reported, the court is supposed to notify APD that the ex-partner may be in violation of a court order, a misdemeanor.

None of that happened.

Data from the state Administrative Office of the Courts indicates that not a single firearm relinquishment receipt was reported by law enforcement in Bernalillo County for the entire month of November.

Reports from previous months that could be obtained also appear to show an absence of relinquishment receipts.

The data indicates that four declarations of non-relinquishments were reported in the county last month. The declarations are filed by parties under a restraining order who are found by the court to be credible threats, but claim to own no firearms — which is to say that their word is taken as truthful.

What the data doesn’t show is how many orders of protection were filed in which the restrained party was ordered to relinquish his or her weapons — another gap in the implementation of the law.

In fact, little data or oversight of the relinquishment law is available. We can make some inferences by looking at figures compiled by the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository, which reported that 848 orders of protection were issued in Bernalillo County in 2019, the last year for which data is available.

As the Repository report opines, “more comprehensive protection order information is needed to determine the efficacy of protection orders and emergency protection orders, their rate of enforcement, and the consequences for violating protection orders for offenders and victims.”

I’ll second that.

Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence said that other counties, including more rural ones, where sheriff’s departments had voiced opposition to the bill, have been more compliant with enforcing the relinquishment law.

It’s obvious, she said, that more training is necessary on how to implement the law and she anticipates being part of APD’s meetings this month.

I would add that the public, especially those looking to leave dangerous relationships, also needs to be made aware of the law for their own safety, and push for both law enforcement and the courts to do their jobs.

New Mexico has the fourth-highest rate in the nation of women who are killed by men, 74% of them killed by a firearm, according to the Violence Policy Center. For homicides in which the victim-to-offender relationship could be identified, 95% of female victims were killed by someone they knew. Of those, 74% were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives or girlfriends of the offenders.

Domestic assaults in which a firearm is involved are about 12 times more likely to end in the death of the victim, according to figures cited by the bill.

It’s a credible threat to those who are fleeing a dangerous relationship — and society as a whole — that this law is not working as it should. It’s been law for 29 months. It’s way past time to enforce it.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com

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