Gun legislation advances with state Senate committee vote
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal advanced Tuesday in the New Mexico state Legislature that would allow law enforcement officials or family members to seek court orders to seize firearms temporarily from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
A Senate committee endorsed the bill on a party-line vote with Democrats in support. Another committee review awaits before the bill can reach the Senate floor for a possible vote.
Proponents invoked the toll of firearm suicides and mass shootings. Opponents warned that lawmakers risk treading on constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence.
Hundreds of people filled the state Senate gallery to listen and comment on the legislation. They included gun-control advocates wearing “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts and more than a dozen county sheriffs who are outspoken opponents of the proposal.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces invoked the August 2019 mass shooting in neighboring El Paso, Texas, that killed 22 people and noted police allegations that the shooter targeted Mexicans.
“We were shaken this last year ... by the killings at the Walmart in El Paso” said Cervantes. “We cannot accept the alternative that is being offered by the opponents, and that is doing nothing and accepting the status quo.”
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is pushing for the legislation that follows at least 17 states that have enacted emergency risk protection orders that allows the temporarily seizure firearms. Testimony in support of the bill came from Cabinet secretaries for the departments of Public Safety, Health, and Children Youth and Families.
Sheriffs Association President Tony Mace, a Democrat from Cibola County, said outside the proceedings that sheriffs are speaking up for constituents who fear they could be stripped of firearms without due process.
“They feel it’s a backdoor approach to a gun confiscation,” Mace said. “We swore an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. ... That’s our guiding light.”
In Las Cruces on Tuesday, a city resolution in support of the red-flag bill failed on a 3-2 council vote.
The state Senate prohibited firearms in its public gallery and nearby rooms for the first time, with exceptions for law enforcement officials. No specific threats were cited.
The bill would give state district court judges the authority to order guns seized for probable cause if an individual poses an immediate danger by possessing a firearm. A court hearing must be held within 15 days to determine whether to impound guns for a full year.
Cervantes said he was eager to listen to concerns about due process, noting that orders to seize guns would be based on sworn testimony subject to perjury penalties. He promised to strike provisions from the bill that provide immunity for people who seek extreme risk protection orders.
Republican Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle of Portales said he believes judges will be reluctant to ignore warnings about people viewed as dangerous and bristled over discussions about how to dispose of guns that aren’t reclaimed after seizures.
“That would pretty much be highway robbery,” he said. “That is one reason why I am sure as hell against it.”
A similar bill won House approval last year before stalling in the Senate.
Opponents warned that poor people would find it difficult to hire an attorney and contest accusations that they pose a risk.
“Why are you attacking the poor? It’s a valid question,” said Stephani Lord of Bernalillo County, a gun rights advocate affiliated with Pro-Gun Women.
Lujan Grisham last week described gun violence in her own family with the suicide of a mentally ill cousin in 2012. She said the death might have been prevented by relatives if the state allowed firearm protection orders.
Annual firearm mortality rates in New Mexico consistently exceed the national average, with suicides accounting for about two-thirds of gun deaths in 2017, according to the state epidemiologist.
Statehouse rules ordinarily allow the open carry of legally owned firearms, along with permitted concealed weapons. Restrictions and screenings for weapons have been implemented in recent years in the state House chamber for the governor’s State of the State address.