New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez has ideas for strengthening New Mexico’s Red Flag laws.
These laws work to prevent violent crime by removing firearms from people who are exhibiting symptoms of mental health issues or dangerous behavior.
Torrez cited the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine where 18 people were fatally shot and 13 more were wounded by Robert Card, an Army reservist who had been evaluated after acting erratically in July, the Associated Press reported.
“In the wake of the recent mass shooting that occurred in Lewiston, Maine, the Attorney General’s office and in partnership with local law enforcement felt it was important to provide updated training for law enforcement officers,” Torrez said at a press conference Wednesday. “It’s incredibly important for those officers and frankly, for members of the public, to understand that if there is a dangerous individual— someone who’s suffering from mental health issues, and those individuals who have access to firearms— that there is a red flag law on the books here in New Mexico and there is the ability of law enforcement officers to act on that petition to seek the temporary removal of those firearms to protect the person from immediate harm from self harm, but also to protect members of the public.”
Albuquerque Police Department Detective Jeff Jones of the APD Crisis Intervention Team thinks the red flag law is an effective tool.
The CIT is trained in responding effectively to people who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
Jones remembers a case from about a year or two ago when an individual was making comments about suicide and “other incoherent comments,” Jones said.
The APD Crisis Intervention Team was sent out to get the person’s firearms which included an AR-15, two .45 caliber pistols and “many, many rounds of ammunition,” Jones said.
The person is currently undergoing treatment and is now doing well, Jones said.
The Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order that removed the person’s firearms has since expired.
“If you’re dealing with somebody who is in an acute crisis, clearly, separating them for a short time period or up to a year from their firearms where they can seek their help and get to a better place, I think is a smart move,” Jones, who is a gun owner, said.
Torrez looked at other states’ Red Flag laws for ways to make New Mexico’s version more effective. One way was to expand the law to give immediate search and surrender authority which updates the current law which gives people up to 48 hours to surrender their firearms voluntarily if an Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order is in place after a judge rules that a person poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to themself or others.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep the firearms in their possession in their home for an additional 48 hours. It also doesn’t make sense to prohibit law enforcement from conducting a search of the premises to make sure that all the firearms are actually recovered,” Torrez said.
The second change Torrez proposed was to expand the definition of a reporting party to include law enforcement and medical professionals as well as to add a provision allowing a reporting party’s name and contact information to be redacted to prevent retaliation.
“We actually have a case on appeal right now in the New Mexico Court of Appeals on that exact issue on whether or not police officers can themselves act as a reporting party. Again, when you look at most jurisdictions across the country here, we allow frontline police officers and medical professionals to serve as recording parties,” Torrez said.
The third change proposed was to align other laws flush with the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Act to trigger a law enforcement referral.
Currently, if a person is deemed incompetent to stand trial or is otherwise “adjudicated as a mental defective,” there is no mandatory referral to the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, database notifying law enforcement that the person should be flagged.
“While there are rules in place to mandate the recording of those judicial actions so that the information is uploaded into NCIC. It doesn’t cross over to law enforcement as an identification,” Torrez said.
Torrez sent a letter to law enforcement agencies statewide about available red flag law training.
“(The training) is to make sure that our detectives, field officers and people all over the state of New Mexico understand what they can do and what they can’t do,” Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said at the press conference. “We want to make sure that we stand in solidarity with all law enforcement in the state of New Mexico and our nation to make sure we’re doing what we need to do to fulfill our role which is to protect all and make sure we do it correctly and constitutionally.”