New Mexico red-flag gun law seldom used to withdraw firearms

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A fledgling red-flag gun law aimed at removing firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others has been applied just four times across New Mexico since it went into effect in May, records show.

The Administrative Office of the Courts confirmed Tuesday that a total of four petitions for extreme risk firearm protection orders had been filed through January in Eddy, Santa Fe, Taos and San Juan counties.

A similar law in Florida has been used thousands of times since it was enacted in response to a mass shooting in early 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which a gunman killed 17 people.

In New Mexico, three petitions resulted in one-year court orders for the surrender of firearms — with one order later rescinded after the firearms were sold off.

A petition for one Santa Fe man to surrender his firearms was eventually rejected because threats of violence were reported by his physician. Current law allows testimony from relatives, employers and school administrators only.

New Mexico’s red-flag law was approved by a Democratic-led Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to a mass shooting by a lone gunman at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, that killed 23 people in August 2019.

Advocates for the law also hope it will address the state’s suicide epidemic. New Mexico had the nation’s highest suicide rate in 2018, and firearms were the most common means.

The legislation was a lightning rod for criticism from rural sheriffs — Republicans and Democrats — in the state with a strong culture of gun ownership.

The New Mexico law allows police and sheriffs deputies to petition a court for the surrender of household firearms from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others based on sworn affidavits from relatives, employers or school administrators.

Democratic legislators are currently proposing changes that would allow police officers to seek a court order based on their own observations without a recommendation from someone else who witnesses a gun owner in crisis.

Officers could base decisions on information from a physician or a mental health provider, bill co-sponsor and state Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales said Tuesday at an initial legislative hearing. The committee delayed a vote on whether to advance the bill.

Other proposed changes would ensure that evidence obtained in the firearms emergency protection process cannot be used for criminal prosecution, Ely said.

A panel of House lawmakers advanced a separate bill Tuesday that would restrict the creation of guns from plastics on a 3D printer to federally licensed arms manufacturers, on a 3-2 vote, with Republicans in opposition.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tara Lujan of Santa Fe voiced safety concerns regarding homemade “ghost guns” without serial numbers for tracking that can pass unnoticed through metal detectors, proposing misdemeanor criminal penalties for violations of restrictions.

Republican state Rep. Stefani Lord of Sandia Park, an outspoken advocate for gun rights, said she consulted with police about ghost guns and believes that “there is no issue at all.”