SANTA FE – The New Mexico state Senate on Friday endorsed a “red flag” gun bill that has been prompted by concerns about a mass shooting last year in El Paso, Texas, and suicide prevention efforts.
The bill won Senate approval on a 22-20 vote with Republicans and a several Democrats voting against it. The proposal moves to the House, which last year approved a similar measure that languished.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged legislators in the Democratic-led Legislature to enact a law to provide new tools to law enforcement to prevent gun violence.
The bill as currently written would allow law enforcement officers to petition a state district court to order the temporary surrender of firearms. Complaints about gun owners by relatives or school administrators would be presented to law enforcement officials and not directly to the court.
Rural sheriffs oppose the legislation, arguing that the bill would infringe on constitutional guarantees and that officers can already intervene in the event of a mental health crisis and detain people for their own safety or a danger to others.
Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton, a legislative liaison to the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, said Friday that the bill still “gives the appearance of a gun grab” by authorities and was unlikely to improve public safety.
Republican Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle of Portales cautioned against the legislation.
“We cannot trample on constitutions in order to address the emotions of the moment,” he said.
At least 17 states have enacted provisions for emergency risk protection orders that allows the temporarily seizure of firearms.
Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes overhauled his proposal this week after meeting with law enforcement officials including state police. Those revisions removed a provision that would have allowed family member to directly petition courts for the removal of firearms when a relative appears to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Cervantes, a Las Cruces-based attorney, has invoked the August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso – highlighting allegations that the shooter, who has been charged with hate crimes, targeted Mexicans. New Mexico has the highest ratio of Latino residents of any state, estimated at well over 40% by the U.S. Census Bureau.
He gave an emotional plea for support of the Senate floor.
“I can’t know this bill will prevent a school shooting,” he said. “What I do know is that If we do nothing but offer our thoughts and prayers ever time we see a mass killing ... that I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror knowing that I didn’t do everything to prevent that.”
A provision was added Friday allowing school principals or college administrators to request that police intervene to remove firearms. Cervantes invoked the 1966 mass shooting from a tower at the University of Texas that killed 14 as justification.
Another amendment raised the legal standard of proof needed for a one-year order for gun removal, from probable cause to a preponderance of evidence.
The election of Lujan Grisham in 2018 opened the door to new restrictions on gun possession.
Lawmakers last year expanded background check requirements to cover nearly all private gun sales and enacted a law that prohibits firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.