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.