WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Texan John Cornyn, announced Sunday the framework for a legislative deal to address gun violence in the aftermath of the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead at a Uvalde elementary school.
The tentative deal includes a mix of modest gun control proposals and funding for mental health. It would incentivize states to pass “red flag” laws, which are designed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others; boost funding for mental health services, telehealth resources and more school security; permit juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for purchasers under the age of 21 and crack down on the straw purchase and trafficking of guns.
Earlier this month, Seattle police confiscated a cache of firearms from alleged neo-Nazi leader Kaleb James Cole after a county court named him in an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Police argued Cole posed a threat to the public and were therefore able to take his guns under a relatively new type of law—often referred to as a red flag law.
Cole served as an example Wednesday afternoon in Santa Fe as the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee heard a pitch from Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, about enacting a similar law in New Mexico. Although, it’s unlikely Ely and other supporters will be using the term “red flag.”
“I’ve been trained not to use that term, but it is the same thing,” Ely said, adding that mental health professionals prefer not to use the term.
Ely said he used Cole as an example because it shows “The value of an extreme risk protection order.”
Ely’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act would allow police to temporarily confiscate weapons from individuals a court has deemed a potential danger. The Albuquerque lawmaker said the proposal is similar to a bill he cosponsored during the 2019 legislative session.
“This is a bill that allows law enforcement or household members to petition a court, and with evidence, convince a court that a person is an imminent threat,” he told the committee.
Ely’s proposal was met with mostly support by committee members, but the sole Republican in attendance had some issues with the standards the courts and police would use to determine if someone is a threat.
Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he could understand legal intervention for someone making “a credible threat on the internet,” but was concerned about the burden of proof in Ely’s proposal.
“I think you need to use the highest standard if you’re going to deny a person a constitutional right,” Rehm said.
But Ely argued a person’s right to own a gun would not be violated.
“We’re not taking guns away forever, we’re not locking people up, we’re trying to save lives,” Ely said.
Under the proposal, if a person is deemed by a court to be a danger and their guns are taken away, they would have the opportunity to argue their case in a court hearing. If no further action is taken after the initial confiscation, Ely said, the guns would be returned.
The third time was not the charm. For the third time in just over a month, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver rejected a Republican petition for a referendum to overturn the law that would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, submitted the second amended petition on April 12. The petition fixed a technical problem related to the filing. But the Secretary of State found the larger issue is still that the law is not eligible for a referendum under the state constitution according to Toulouse Oliver.
Gun control advocates can claim a victory after the House of Representatives voted 38-31 shortly before midnight Thursday to approve a bill intended to ensure people subject to a protection order in a domestic abuse case shall not possess a weapon. The legislation, Senate Bill 328, also requires that person to relinquish his or her firearms to law enforcement authorities. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to sign the bill into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque and one of three sponsors of the bill, said after its passage, “I believe it will save lives. “There’s a much higher likelihood of death by firearm in situations of domestic violence when a gun is available,” she said.
Legislators are pressing ahead with a slate of gun control bills that would require background checks for virtually all firearm sales and add to the categories of offenders who would be prohibited from possessing a gun at all. Proponents argue these bills will close loopholes and help keep guns out of the hands of those who have committed violent crimes or are in crisis. But critics argue the laws will prove unenforceable, ineffective and will undermine the right to bear arms.
The measures come with a sense of urgency after mass shootings around the country and in New Mexico have spurred calls for tighter limits on obtaining firearms.
But even with Democrats holding a 46-24 majority in the House, any major gun control measures will face opposition as well as wary moderates. In turn, Democrats are focusing on a few sets of policies they argue are effective enough to win support for finally passing a bill after years of watching legislation be watered down or blocked altogether. Instead of calling for bans on so-called bump stocks or high-capacity magazines, lawmakers so far are focusing on expanding background checks and tightening limits on the rights of domestic violence offenders to possess guns.
When retired U.S. Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly asked nine high school students how many knew someone who had been shot, all of them raised their hands. The students were from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and two schools on tribal land. He said that’s the first time every student raised a hand; it’s usually closer to 50 percent when he asks that in other states—and closer to zero percent in other developed nations. Three of the students later said they had been shot at themselves . Kelly appeared with his wife, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Albuquerque on Tuesday.
A student-organized march and rally in Albuquerque attracted thousands of people to Old Town this morning as part of the national March for Our Lives which protested gun violence and school shootings. The march began at the Old Town Plaza and ended a few blocks away at Tiguex Park. Along the edges of the crowd at Tiguex Park, Democratic gubernatorial and congressional candidates shook hands and spoke with attendees. But most of the calls to action, poems and inspirational words came from middle school, high school and college students. Lillian Hunt, 17, and Emma Buck-Anderson, 19, who helped organize the rally, both said they just want adults to hear their concerns when it comes to issues like school safety.
Following the latest mass shooting, one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators wants to repeal an amendment that bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich announced his opposition to the Dickey Amendment Tuesday, saying that CDC research is necessary to help find solutions to curb gun violence. “I am calling for the repeal of the Dickey Amendment because I am fed up with tragedies like the mass shootings in Parkland, Las Vegas, and Aztec,” Heinrich said. I am also heartsick over the estimated 91 Americans killed each day by gun violence.”
The Dickey Amendment, implemented in 1996, specifically stopped the CDC from using any funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The National Rifle Association was a driving force behind the amendment at the time. The amendment itself is gaining attention, as mass shootings have increased over recent years, and debate over why has no authority to look back on.
It’s predictable after every new mass-shooting horror: The political right’s reflexive call for “thoughts and prayers,” which is then mocked by people who favor more gun restrictions for lacking any accompanying ideas for preventing future killings. But there’s an equally predictable refrain on the center-left and in the media, too: “Once again, nothing will be done.”
Barely had the death toll of 17 been announced last week after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida than The Washington Post declared, “The gun debate is going nowhere quickly after Parkland.” CNN offered: “Amid continued string of mass shootings, gun control going nowhere in Congress.” After 59 concert-goers were mowed down in October, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel put to rest any hope for reform in a New York Times op-ed column titled “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting.”
This fatalism is borne of hard-won experience. Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any gun-control measures after past calamities, even the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.Yet this world-weary defeatism is self-fulfilling in its own way, and helps explain why Washington hasn’t taken action to address the killing. For one thing, such pessimism demoralizes, and dismisses, those who are motivated to fight against gun violence, such as the network of angry moms that sprung up after the Sandy Hook massacre and the organization led by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, which have managed to achieve a series of state-level successes even as reform stalls at the national level. For another thing, it lets off the hook those who are opposed to stronger gun laws.
One of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators introduced legislation that would make sure those convicted of domestic violence offenses in the military cannot own a firearm. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, worked with U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, on sponsoring the legislation. Both men described the bill as one that can pass with bipartisan support and will have a real-world impact. They introduced the bill in response to the fact that the man who killed over two dozen men, women and children in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church was convicted of assault against his wife and step-child and discharged for bad conduct while a member of the U.S. Air Force. The alleged murderer was still able to buy guns despite a federal ban preventing those convicted of domestic violence from buying firearms.
But there is no specification in the Uniform Code of Military Justice for domestic assault, Flake said, only for assault. Because of this, the military has not been reporting convictions of what would be classified as domestic assault in non-military courts to a federal database of domestic abusers meant to prevent them from owning weapons.