SANTA FE, New Mexico — Democratic legislators in New Mexico pushed forward Tuesday with a red-flag gun proposal, sending the bill toward a decisive House floor vote after a final round of public comment.
The Senate-approved bill would allow law enforcement to petition a court for the temporary surrender of guns by people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the initiative, applauding people who have come forward at hearings with personal stories of hardship and suffering from gun violence.
Under the bill, relatives of gun owners, employers and administrators of schools and colleges could request through a sworn affidavit the suspension of an individual’s gun-possession rights under an “extreme risk firearms protection order.”
A House panel endorsed the bill on a 3-2 vote without amendments after hours of public comment and deliberation. Supporters of the bill say police need new law enforcement tools to contain suicide rates and prevent gun violence in the wake of the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22, and a 2017 shooting that killed two students at a high school in northwestern New Mexico.
“We’ve listened to law enforcement around the state,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque. “This bill prevents a person in crisis from hurting themselves or others.”
Dozens of rural sheriffs still oppose the bill, which allows for liability claims of up to $750,000 against law enforcement officials who fail to enforce the red-flag law.
Rep. Daymon Ely, co-sponsor of the red-flag bill, said the liability provision “was a direct reaction to the sheriffs saying they are not going to enforce” gun laws.
Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton said the proposal would put his deputies at risk for potential violation of the U.S. Constitution for seizing weapons.
“It’s going to be rammed through. Their minds are already made up,” Helton said about House Democrats who hold a 46-24 majority. A similar red-flag bill won House approval last year in a 39-30 vote before stalling in the state Senate.
Comments in support of the bill on Tuesday came from middle and high school students, the chief of state police, and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and a violent crime unit of the Albuquerque Police Department.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed support despite concerns about possible gun rights infringements.
“The ethical and moral reasons outweigh that sacrifice,” Sanchez said.
Critics of the bill included a county commissioner and mayor from rural areas of New Mexico and a legal adviser to a statewide sport-shooting association.
Alexandra Garza, field representative of the National Rifle Association, echoed concerns by bill opponents that gun owners flagged as dangerous may need to hire a lawyer to get their firearm back — leaving poor people at a disadvantage.
“They have to hire an attorney to navigate this confusing process,” she said.
A red-flag order would set off a 10-day deadline for a court hearing on whether the initial order to surrender firearms is extended for a one-year period. A flagged gun owner can request an extension of up to 30 days for the hearing.
Failure to relinquish firearms as ordered is a misdemeanor crime that can lead authorities to remove weapons, under the bill.
At least 17 states have enacted provisions for emergency risk-protection orders that allow the temporarily seizure of firearms.