SANTA FE, NM- The states are dropping like dominoes in passing controversial gun laws. The latest one to fall is New Mexico.
On Thursday, lawmakers in the state passed a so-called “red flag” gun law, which will now go to Gov. Michelle Luhan Grisham for her signature. But it goes so far beyond that, as we’ll get to in a minute.
The proposal was passed by the New Mexico state House 39-31 after three hours of debate. The law, which Grisham has vowed to sign, would make New Mexico the 18th state in the U.S. to pass such a law.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 5 would give authorities permission to seize guns from individuals deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others. Seizures would be mandated by a court order. The bill is known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a legislative session in any state without emotions taking center stage. Example one is Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque. He told fellow legislators about trying to keep a cousin from killing herself. Police found his cousin, Celena Alarid dead last 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.”
Conversely, Republican lawmakers raised the prospect of deadly confrontations between police officers who show up to seize firearms and the subjects of those seizures.
“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.
The red flag bill was an emotional issue, one of the more emotionally charged debates of the 2020 session.
Supporters of the bill spoke to lawmakers during committee hearings, some in tears, about their anguish after finding a relative dead from suicide.
On the other side, survivors spoke of surviving domestic abuse and the peace of mind and security provided by a firearm. Some carried semiautomatic rifles to the state capitol as a demonstration of their Second Amendment rights.
Grisham, who was elected in 2018 made the red flag law a legislative priority. Conversely, thirty out of 33 sheriffs in the state opposed the bill.
The bill will go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns next week.
Grisham said in a written statement:
“This is a tremendous victory for New Mexicans’ public safety,” she wrote. “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.”
Hate to break it to you there governor, but if someone wants to commit suicide, there are a lot of ways to do it besides using a firearm.
While use of a firearm was the leading cause of suicide in 2018 at 53%, suicide by asphyxiation/suffocation was 29%. This is based on statistics released by the New Mexico Department of Health. So basically, just over half the suicides in the state were caused by firearms, while nearly half were by other means.
So, while legislators can “feel good” about doing something about suicides in the state, this will likely have minimal effects.
The law will allow law enforcement authorities—acting on information from a relative, school administrator or employer—to seek a court order prohibiting someone from having firearms.
The decision on whether to file a petition with the court would be based upon whether the officer believed there is probable cause to believe the individual “poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others.”
Now, here is where the tricky part that has constitutional implications comes in. The court could order the temporary seizure of the person’s firearm for up to 10 days, until a hearing could be held.
After the hearing the ban could be extended for one year. So, in other words, officers can seize a gun and the “victim” of the order would in essence lose their right to due process, albeit for 10 days.
Oh, and the law gets worse.
Some sheriffs in the state had threatened to refuse to enforce the law.
So, the legislators, in the ultimate show of a virtual middle finger to those sheriffs also included a clause in the measure that removes immunity from liability for those who fail to carry out their duties under the extreme risk act or other state laws.
In other words, most jurisdictions have qualified immunity for law enforcement officials acting in their official capacity, unless laws are broken or there is egregious conduct. In this case, the immunity from liability is removed if they failed to carry out their duties under the red flag law or other state laws.
In this circumstance, the bill moved quickly through the legislature. In contrast, a similar proposal last year stalled in the Senate after passing the House.
The debate of course fell along party lines. And Democrats of course invoked “the children” as their reason for the act. Because we all know that children are very important to Democrats, unless of course they happen to still be in the womb, or maybe even just out of it. Then, kids don’t matter so much.
The law was jointly sponsored by Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely and Joy Garratt, and Sen. Joseph Cervantes.
Ely and Garratt claimed that the proposal was reasonable and constitutional, and that it would help to address New Mexico’s high suicide rate (fourth in the country in 2016 according to the New Mexico Department of Health). They also said it would address the threat of mass shootings.
Garratt, who is a teacher said it’s traumatic for children, some as young as 5 go through active shooter drills.
“Some kids are now scared to go to school,” she said.
She also noted that Thursday’s debate came the day before the second anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Republican lawmakers railed against the law as a violation of gun owners’ constitutional rights. They raised the possibility that a police officer could show up at someone’s door to seize their firearms based on false allegations.
Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Republican said that the bill “was probably written by a committee of people who don’t know how the real world works.”
The bill passed primarily along party lines, with all Republicans voting against it. Seven Democrats joined their Republican counterparts in voting against the law.
The most ridiculous part of the debate was when the Democrats basically threw out New Mexico sheriffs from the chamber. The sheriffs were there as expert witnesses to testify in opposition to the law.
Many sheriffs in the state maintain that they will seek an injunction, so they do not have to enforce the new law.
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