One thing should be obvious when it comes to guns. They don’t belong in the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and others. That’s why it is difficult to understand the opposition of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association to possible legislation that would make it easier to take guns from potentially violent people.
After all, sheriffs — just like other law enforcement officers — are supposed to be in the business of protecting people. That their focus instead would be ensuring that any person, no matter how disturbed or dangerous, can keep guns close at hand, is disappointing. The sheriffs are going so far as to say they would not enforce an Extreme Risk Protection Order law if the Legislature passes it and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs it. These are elected officials, we remind you, who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the state.
Obviously, sheriffs — under our constitutional system, the one they profess to love — do not decide whether laws pass constitutional muster. That’s up to the courts. Fortunately for New Mexico, laws that make it possible to remove guns temporarily from at-risk people are in place in other states — 17 and the District of Columbia. They have not been found unconstitutional to date, bloviating notwithstanding. The sheriffs can rest easy.
And, yes, New Mexico needs a law that would make it possible for family members to telephone the police and report a loved one with guns who has suicide on his mind. We need a law that would allow a neighbor to report someone who is threatening to wipe out the local high school and trust that weapons would be taken during an investigation. We need a law so that when a mother calls police, worried that her son is not emotionally mature enough to handle an assault-style rifle, officers listen and can investigate.
Last month, 22 people were shot and killed at an El Paso Walmart — and the accused killer’s mother had made just such a phone call to police, according to news reports. She was told he had a legal right to the gun. An Extreme Risk Protection Order law might have saved lives.
What’s more, New Mexico can do this without violating a gun owner’s Second Amendment rights. The community’s right to be safe also must have a place in this discussion. Already, New Mexico has passed legislation requiring more expansive background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders. The Extreme Risk Protection Orders law simply offers a way to intervene — with a judge making the decision, providing due process — before tragedy strikes.
The sheriffs and their association did not support any strengthening of gun safety laws in New Mexico. That’s unfortunate, although we are proud that Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza had a more rational stance. Unlike many rural sheriffs in New Mexico, he has supported laws to protect people, not their guns. We need more sheriffs to join him.
Instead, we have the New Mexico group digging in its heels. Sheriffs and the governor have to work together, and Lujan Grisham is making the effort to hear opposing views and incorporate them when possible in the writing of laws. The sheriffs, however, are not making a good-faith effort.
Even more troubling is the position of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association, which this year reaffirmed a 2013 resolution opposing “any executive order or rule that further restricts the rights of law-abiding people to own, possess, keep and use firearms.”
This comes after a rambling statement praising the use of guns in taming the West and blaming violence on gangs, drug use, lack of mental health treatment, violence in the media and the erosion of the family, adding that “an unlawful act of violence hatched in the mind and heart of an individual intent to do harm to others makes that individual culpable for the criminal action regardless of the type of weapon that may have been used or the manner in which it was used.”
In other words, it’s not the access to guns. It’s never the guns.
Such an approach will not solve the problem. New Mexicans need to make the case directly to their lawmakers and tell their sheriffs they want law enforcement officers who will keep their oath to enforce the law. A law making it possible to remove guns before a tragedy is sensible and worth passing.
New Mexico can do more to keep people safe from gun violence. And it should.