February 6, 2020

Senate committee passes red flag legislation

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So-called “red flag” legislation narrowly cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 6-5.

Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

It would allow law enforcement officers to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, is one of the most contentious of this year’s legislative session.

But it is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s key crime-fighting initiatives, and gun-safety proponents say it will save lives and reduce gun violence.

Opponents of the legislation disagree.

For every person who testified in favor of the bill — a woman who said she owns guns and her son used one to take his own life — there was someone to oppose it — the county sheriff who said New Mexico already has a statute in place to deal with behaviorally challenged people with guns.  

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, found that statute online and read it aloud to the assembly, saying it’s stronger than Cervantes’ bill because it allows law enforcement to act immediately. Senate Bill 5, in contrast, gives the person with firearms up to 48 hours to surrender their guns to a law enforcement agency or a licensed gun dealer. 

“In 20 pages [of legislation] we have a much weaker law than we have in one paragraph here,” Moores said. “It is weaker, people. This is actually dangerous for us to do this. This [statute] is very immediate — not 48 hours.”

Cervantes said he is pushing the bill to protect people like his two daughters, who attend college in Albuquerque. He said a neighbor of theirs often wanders the streets at night, armed with a gun and screaming. When concerned citizens call police, he said, they are told there is nothing officers can do because the man is not committing a crime under New Mexico’s open-carry gun laws. 

“What do you tell your daughters?” Cervantes said. “The man walking around your neighborhood screaming and waving a gun is just something you’ll have to adjust to?”

The vote did not fall strictly along party lines. Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, joined four Republicans in opposing the bill. Martinez spoke at length about his conflict over the legislation, saying he was under pressure from constituents on both sides of the argument to vote for or against the legislation. 

He said those pushing him to vote against the bill said if he didn’t, “I may not be here — in the next election.”

He wondered aloud whether taking guns away from people who want to harm themselves would have any real impact if those people are determined to take their own lives. He said after his nephew tried to take his own life with a gun and failed, loved ones took all his guns away.

Eight months later, his nephew took his own life with an overdose of pills.

“We’re spinning this like it’s gonna save lives,” Martinez said, saying the bill seemed like a political ploy to attract campaign donations or impress the media.

Cervantes said that wasn’t true. 

If the bill becomes law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar measures.

If the Senate approves the bill, it would then go to the House of Representatives for consideration.