Despite a concerted effort from gun-rights activists and the National Rifle Association, legislation to make it easier to remove guns from obviously disturbed or violent individuals will make it to the Senate floor.

This has been no easy feat, given intense pressure on lawmakers to stop the bill, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act. That pressure included a gun rights rally last week, complete with individuals armed with rifles and pistols, determined to make it clear that above all, guns are what matters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, voted 6-5 on Wednesday to approve a version of the so-called, red-flag legislation, setting up a vote on the Senate floor. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, chairman of judiciary and sponsor of the bill, deserves credit for steering it through.

To opponents of such laws, the right to bear arms should be unlimited always. That’s despite numerous Supreme Court rulings that demonstrate that, yes, gun rights can be scaled back in some instances. We believe such instances can include using the courts to remove guns temporarily from individuals who are threats either to themselves or others.

The proposed New Mexico law would allow law enforcement officers to petition a court for the temporary removal of guns in extreme situations — we wish the bill still allowed family members to petition the courts but will take this version as a step forward in protecting the community.

The Senate should vote to approve this legislation, which would then go to the House of Representatives and eventually, to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for signature.

A big debate remains, though. Don’t be fooled by claims that current New Mexico law already addresses removing guns from potentially dangerous individuals. The law being cited by opponents of the extreme risk protection order legislation is NMSA 43-1-10. This allows sheriffs or cops to take individuals in without a court order and put them away overnight. It doesn’t really address removing weapons in extreme situations.

However, we do think that the current law could be paired with the proposed law — using a court order to remove weapons to prevent acts of violence, although it would do little to help distraught people using the guns stored at home from killing themselves.

Because suicide by gun is such an issue, we hope to see family members included eventually, if not this session then in future ones. Such a measure saves lives.

Former committee chairman and Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez — who opposed the legislation — told a poignant story about a relative who attempted suicide with a gun, failed and then succeeded using pills.

He is correct that some people who try suicide go on to kill themselves anyway — although according to the Means Matters Campaign at Harvard, 90 percent of attempters do not die by suicide later. Still, Martinez is missing something important.

People who do use a gun their first time to attempt suicide are 140 times more likely to succeed in killing themselves than those using other means, according to a 2016 study of suicide attempts published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

There are fewer second chances for people who use guns; that’s why it is important to remove weapons before the impulse strikes despondent individuals.

The proposed New Mexico law balances individual rights — a court must decide the risk — while allowing the removal of weapons in extreme situations.

This legislation will save lives and reduce violence while protecting the rights of gun owners — it needs to pass and be signed into law. It’s time.

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(11) comments

Jerry Wise

Almost all progress in incremental. A single step begins a journey. This won't fix the problem but it's a step.

Khal Spencer

Also, for an alternative view on effectiveness of red flag laws, you can go here. I don't have a lot of confidence in studies that claim these are either great or worthless because its all based on synthetic models. You can't run a controlled experiment where you find 1,000 identifiable suicidal people and give half of them guns and half of them ropes.

Do Red Flag Laws Save Lives?

19 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2019

John R. Lott

Crime Prevention Research Center

Carlisle E. Moody

College of William and Mary - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 12, 2019


Seventeen states have passed Red Flag or Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws which allow police, family members, individuals living in the same residence, and others to file a petition for a court order temporarily seizing the firearms of persons accused to be a danger to themselves or others. The theory is that some individuals could pose a danger to themselves and others that could be made worse by the presence of firearms. Therefore, a policy that denied the individual access to their firearms, if only temporarily, might indeed save lives. However, it is possible that these laws could increase homicide or suicide. If a troubled person is aware of the existence of a Red Flag law, he or she may well not seek help because of the threat of an ERPO. Also, the enforcement of the orders could also have perverse consequences.

Two states have considerable experience with ERPO’s: Connecticut, since1999, and Indiana since 2005. We use synthetic controls and difference in differences methods to evaluate these laws. The experience in both Connecticut and Indiana is that red flag laws have had no significant effect on either homicide or suicide. We also find that ERPO laws have had no significant effect on deaths or injuries from mass public shootings.

Keywords: Red Flag Laws, Extreme Risk Protection Order

JEL Classification: K10, K47

Meredith Peterson

Once again The Santa Fe New Mexican has upheld its lack of unbiased reporting. I wouldn’t expect anything else from this liberal rag.

Khal Spencer

I went through Kopel's Senate testimony (link to that testimony in my earlier comment). In his analysis, only two cases have gone before appellate courts and both were weak and dismissed. That doesn't mean future cases will be weak, which is why I am disappointed that this bill is being rushed through a 30 day session. My hunch is that the right to a public defender was removed because if that had been included, this bill would have been routed to a finance committee to ensure funding for the required resources and the process may have bogged down. Better to just dispense with the right to an attorney?

So that is my problem. As far as the bill at this point? It is a better bill in many ways as it got rid of some vague language that could be misused and it ensured that a complaint would have to be filtered through law enforcement, which should eliminate some complaints that don't hold water. But I do worry about right to counsel. Although one is not losing life or liberty (as in an involuntary commitment procedure, where one has the right to a lawyer) one is still losing a right enumerated in the state and federal Constitution.

I think we are in uncharted waters as far as which ERPOs will be challenged and possibly overturned and which are bulletproof, so to speak. The Rhode Island ACLU spoke against that state's first attempt and strengthened the bill's due process before it was voted on. The NM ACLU chose to not say anything about this bill. I think that claims that this bill is "unconstitutional" are specious at this point since no court has said so.

As far as suicides, I agree with Ms. Viscoli that this bill may in some cases help stop a suicide (and hopefully, some family gun violence too), but we need to do far more than secure guns. Combining an ERPO with mental health or family counseling and allowing an ERPO to expire once a problem is solved is the best outcome. Let's try to agree on what is good rather than only fight about that with which we disagree.

Charles Andreoli

Despite what the anti gun crowd of chattering old white women in red T shirts w0uld like you to believe this proposed law will have no effect on suicides and will do nothing to stop criminal activity. One thing you can count on is that this law will be abused here just as it has been in all states where laws like this have been passed.

kyle renfro

the message is, if this passes, keep that one gun to turn in and hide the rest

John Puerner

As I read it, law enforcement must petition a court to apply the law to an individual, however, many in the law enforcement community say they won’t participate. This is like the law banning high capacity magazines in Colorado which is on the books and never enforced.

Jerry Appel

To me the most illuminating part of the opposition by the County Sheriffs was the picture of all those men, not one woman. There might be a few female sheriffs in New Mexico, but not one was in the photo. When you consider how many of these violent acts are committed against women and often result in their murders, it is shameful for these law enforcement officers to stand with men and against women.

Barry Rabkin

I'll be very surprised if this 'law to come' isn't found to be unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

Miranda Viscoli

Thank you, Santa Fe New Mexican for this informative Our View and for dispelling the untruths that have been circulating around this important piece of legislation. Last year in New Mexico, 438 people were shot and killed. 280 of those firearm deaths were suicide.

Khal Spencer

What Inez omits saying is that first, the SJC stripped out not only language saying you have a right to an attorney, that if you are indigent, one can be provided if you demonstrate you cannot afford one. Second, that the lowest standard of evidence is used to strip a person of their rights enumerated in the State and Federal Constitution and third, that so far, the bill does not require any expert witnesses to back up claims that a person is worthy of an emergency disarmament. So as far as due process? Baloney.

Dems had a chance to adopt language providing due process and indeed, the second iteration of the bill contained the language indicating the indigent could be represented at state expense. No sooner than that was introduced than it was stripped out. Cato Institute and Denver University law professor David Kopel discusses at length more rigorous versions of red flag laws that would have made it almost impossible for the sheriffs and GOP members to dismiss it as "unconstitutional" but they preferred to go it alone. One has to ask why.

How about a more rounded editorial, New Mexican?

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