New Mexico Senate endorses red-flag gun bill

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico state Senate on Friday endorsed a red-flag gun bill that has been prompted by concerns about a mass shooting last year in El Paso, Texas, and suicide prevention efforts.

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The bill won Senate approval on a 22-20 vote with Republicans and four Democrats voting against it. The proposal moves to the House, which last year approved a similar measure that languished.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged the Democratic-led Legislature to provide new avenues for law enforcement to prevent gun violence and better secure the safety of schools.

“The extreme risk protection order is part of an effort to give law enforcement every single tool,” she after the Senate vote.

The bill as currently written would allow law enforcement officers to petition a state district court to order the temporary surrender of firearms. Complaints about gun owners by relatives or school administrators would be presented to law enforcement officials and not directly to the court.

Rural sheriffs have opposed the legislation, arguing it would infringe on constitutional guarantees and that officers can already intervene in the event of a mental health crisis and detain people for their own safety or a who present danger to others.

Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton, a legislative liaison to the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, said Friday that the bill still “gives the appearance of a gun grab” by authorities and was unlikely to improve public safety.

Republican Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle of Portales cautioned against the legislation.

“We cannot trample on constitutions in order to address the emotions of the moment,” he said.

In Senate debate, bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes described ways in which the initiative addresses a long list of concerns raised by an expert aligned with the firearms industry about preserving due process rights for gun owners. One amendment Friday inserted the right to an immediate court appeal by gun owners.

He made an emotional appeal for Senate approval, invoking the August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso — and highlighting allegations that the shooter, who has been charged with hate crimes, targeted Mexicans. New Mexico has the highest ratio of Latino residents of any state, estimated at well over 40% by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Next time we see a grieving family, grieving parents sobbing at the memorials for their families — as we have in El Paso — I want to be able look at them and know that I did everything within my power to prevent it,” said Cervantes, a Las Cruces-based attorney whose firm has an office in El Paso.

Democratic Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe described the bill as a “huge step for school safety" that responds to mass protests by student activists at the Statehouse and a deadly December 2017 school shooting at Aztec High School by a gunman who had been visited by the FBI.

“Had this tool been available, that specific school shooting might have been stopped,” Wirth said.

At least 17 states have enacted provisions for emergency risk protection orders that allows the temporarily seizure of firearms.

Recent revisions to the New Mexico red-flag bill removed a provision that would have allowed family members to directly petition courts for the removal of firearms when a relative appears to pose a threat to themselves or others.

An amendment Friday allows school principals or college administrators to request that police intervene to remove firearms. Another change raised the legal standard of proof needed for a one-year order for gun removal, from probable cause to a preponderance of evidence.

The election of Lujan Grisham in 2018 opened the door to new restrictions on gun possession.

Lawmakers last year expanded background-check requirements to cover nearly all private gun sales and enacted a law that prohibits firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.