New Mexico red-flag law rarely used, some lawmakers look to amend

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The recent shooting at a FedEx in Indianapolis is putting a lot of attention on so-called ‘red flag’ laws. New Mexico’s red-flag law was passed in February 2020 and went into effect in May of that year.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or ERPO or ‘red flag’ laws, allow courts to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if are considered a serious threat of harming themselves or others. Nineteen-year-old Brandon Hole is accused of shooting and killing eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis last week.

However, with Indiana being one of the more than a dozen states with ERPO laws in place, there are questions as to why he had guns in the first place. His mother said she told police last year he would try suicide by cop and authorities removed a shotgun from his home. But, he never had a ‘red flag’ hearing and later that year he was able to legally buy assault rifles.

New Mexico has its own ERPO law. “Nobody should be in favor of somebody who is at real risk for suicide or a mass shooting to have guns. Nobody should be in favor of that,” Rep. Daymon Ely, (D-Corrales), said.

Opponents were concerned it would be used to take guns away from just about anyone but records show it has barely used to take any guns away at all. “I would say it’s not working well yet but we’re going to make it work. And I’m committed to that,” Rep. Ely said.

“It’s only for a very limited and rare situation where a person is truly at risk of killing themselves or harming others. It’s not something you use all over the place. I’m so regretful that people perpetuated a misunderstanding about the purpose, use, and applicability of the bill,” Rep. Joy Garratt, (D-Albuquerque) said.

According to the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Court, since going into effect last May, four ERPO petitions have been filed. Three of them resulted in the mandatory seizing of firearms for one year. But in one of those three cases, the order was lifted before the year was up. “I expected a low number of uses because it’s a very precise tool that you would only use in an extreme situation. So, I was not surprised by the number four,” Rep. Garratt said.

“Clearly, it’s not working as well as we’d like it to so that’s why we need to revisit,” Rep. Ely said. “It can’t just be four or five times that this would’ve been applicable. What was the problem?”

Rep. Ely and Rep. Garratt looked into this and sponsored a bill with amendments to the law in the 2021 regular session. One of the biggest changes would allow law enforcement officers to report an individual they consider an imminent threat to harming themselves or others, instead of only relatives, employer, or school administrators as the law says now. Rep. Garratt called that change the ‘missing piece’ of this legislation.

“One police chief from rural New Mexico told me his officers repeatedly went to one house where there were threats of gun violence and they felt that this was a serious situation and ultimately there was a murder-suicide at that house. So, that’s an example where a law enforcement officer could petition a judge, it could save lives,” Rep. Garratt said.

“We’re trying to strike the correct balance to make sure that people’s Second Amendment rights are protected while at the same time removing what’s obviously a dangerous instrumentality,” said Rep. Ely.

The bill passed two House committees but because of the backup of legislation and pressing need for COVID relief during the last regular session, Rep. Garratt said they didn’t see a path for the bill out of the Senate and did not move forward with it. She said she has already reached out to the Governor’s Office to get the bill, amending New Mexico’s red-flag law on the call for the next session.

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