SANTA FE, New Mexico -- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday afternoon signed a controversial red-flag gun measure into law that allows courts to order the surrender of firearms from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others.
She also said any sheriff who doesn't want to enforce the new law should resign.
Flanked by advocates for stricter gun control and supportive law enforcement officials at a signing ceremony, Lujan Grisham said the legislation provides authorities with an urgently needed tool to deter deadly violence. It was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces.
“New Mexico has balanced individual rights and public safety in a responsible way that will reduce our unacceptable suicide rate and other forms of gun violence,” Lujan Grisham said. “The Legislature had the strength to pass this measure because we all recognize: Enough is enough. And we have the power to change the dynamic of gun violence in our communities. Today we are standing up – we do not accept the status quo; we do not accept the risk posed by dangerous armed individuals who have articulated their desire to cause harm."
The legislation allows police and sheriffs deputies to petition a court for the surrender of household firearms within 48 hours from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Petitions can be based on sworn affidavits filed by relatives, employers or school administrators, and authorities can be held liable for officers who fail to enforce the law.
“This law is sensible and balanced. It is a good public safety measure. If it saves even one life, and it will, we will have done good work here," the governor said. "My thanks to the Legislature and the committed advocates who have fought and continue to fight for progress on gun safety.”
Some sheriffs from mostly rural areas opposed the bill in committee hearings as a violation of constitutional guarantees to due process, free speech and the right to bear arms. Public rallies were held for and against the legislation.
Lujan Grisham said sheriffs should have the opportunity to oppose any recommended policy change, but “they cannot not enforce.”
“”If they really intend to do that, they should resign as a law enforcement officer and leader in that community,” she said.
New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace of Cibola County said the new law goes too far by potentially impounding guns before any crime is committed and that he and other sheriffs will assert their discretion over its enforcement.
“We don’t work for the governor, we don’t work for the Legislature,” he said. “We work for the people that elected us into office.”
The gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action is planning a yearslong campaign to publicize the law and outline how people can petition law enforcement for extreme risk protection orders, said Emelie DeAngelis, a state chapter leader.
She said her group is emphasizing that district attorneys can seek red-flag orders from judges in areas where sheriffs may show reluctance.
“We were really adamant that particularly with our sheriffs’ situation — a lot of them saying that they don’t want to enforce this — that the DAs had to stay in” the law, she said.
Lujan Grisham outlined her motivation for signing the red-flag law by invoking the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and the 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 students at a Florida high school.
Red-flag laws gained momentum after it was learned that the young man accused in the Florida attack was widely known to be mentally troubled yet had access to weapons.
“Now this state is responding,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’re looking at the opportunity to do as much as we can for threats that could create mass violence.”
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 year. 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 that can lead authorities to remove weapons under the law.