Governor announces extreme-risk protection order legislation to be on 2020 legislative ‘call’
Initiative creates procedure to enhance public safety by empowering family members, public safety officers to act on early-warning signs, threats of violence
LAS CRUCES – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday announced her support for a public safety proposal in the upcoming legislative session authorizing extreme-risk protection orders, an important, proven-effective and proactive step toward minimizing the risk of gun violence in New Mexico communities.
Legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, Rep. Daymon Ely and Rep. Joy Garratt will be pre-filed Wednesday. The governor announced her support for the initiative – and her intention to include the legislation in the 30-day “call” – at a news conference alongside Sen. Cervantes, Rep. Ely and public safety advocates at the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office.
The measure would allow household members and law enforcement officers to ask a court for an order – attesting to the urgent need for it under oath – to temporarily take weapons and ammunition from someone who is making violent threats against himself or others. The court would be required to hold a hearing within 15 days, and the weapons and ammunition would be returned when the order expires.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” President Donald Trump said in the wake of devastating August mass shootings that killed 31 and injured dozens more in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. “That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme-risk protection orders.”
“This is another meaningful and productive step forward in our effort to keep New Mexico communities safe,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “Surely we can all agree that if someone is making threats of harm, we must act to prevent it. The alternative is to leave New Mexicans at risk – and that is flatly unacceptable. An extreme-risk protection order is exactly that: A temporary, proactive check on an individual who is confirmed to constitute an extreme risk to themselves, their family members or others.
“With the support of the Legislature and committed advocates and community members all across the state, I look forward to enacting this and other measures in the coming session that will enhance New Mexicans’ safety and well-being and bolster our collective right to be safe in our communities,” the governor added.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have similar extreme-risk laws, sometimes called “red-flag” laws, most of them enacted in the wake of the high school mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Before that event, family members told law enforcement that the gunman exhibited warning signs of potential violence, but there was no clear process to restrict his access to guns, even temporarily.
“Too often these murders follow earlier warnings made to family, friends and even law enforcement who don’t now have a clear way to react,” Sen. Cervantes said. “This will give law enforcement and our courts the immediate, fast and certain procedure to investigate people threatening our communities.”
Extreme-risk protection orders also save lives by keeping those at risk of hurting themselves from accessing the most lethal means of suicide during desperate periods. Suicides make up 70 percent of all firearm deaths, and New Mexico’s suicide rate is at least 50 percent higher than the U.S. rate.
“This law gives law enforcement and our courts an additional tool to prevent crime in New Mexico and reduce firearm-related homicides and suicide deaths,” Rep. Garrett said. It’s time we pass common-sense legislation that addresses the scourge that is gun violence in our communities.”
Under this legislation, a law enforcement officer or family member requesting an extreme-risk protection order would have to do so under oath and supply a sworn affidavit explaining in detail why the order is needed. A judge would review the petition and determine if probable cause exists to issue a 15-day emergency order. If so, law enforcement would serve a warrant to search and seize the person’s guns and ammunitions. The judge would schedule a hearing before the emergency order expires to determine if it should become a one-year order.
The law enforcement agency that seized the guns and ammunition would have to provide both the court and the individual with an inventory and return all items without cost when the extreme-risk protection order expires.
“This bill is a good balance between people’s rights to bear arms and public safety,” Rep. Ely said. “It protects the public. It protects people who might be an imminent threat of suicide, and it protects law enforcement. That’s what this bill does.”
Eight states (Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware) passed ERPO legislation in 2018 with bipartisan support, and Republican governors signed five of those eight measures.
A recent national survey found that 77 percent of Americans support family-initiated ERPOs, and 70 percent support them when initiated by law enforcement. It also found broad support among Republicans (two-thirds) and gun owners (60 percent) for allowing police to seek the court orders. High percentages – 70 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of gun owners — also support allowing family members to seek them, according to the August 2019 APM Research Lab/Guns & America/Call To Mind survey.