SANTA FE – Gun safety advocates in New Mexico say police, prosecutors and even judges are still learning how to harness a 2020 red flag law that can be used to seize guns from people who pose a danger to others or themselves.
Sheila Lewis offers training to police, prosecutors and school administrators about how to petition a judge for a red flag order to temporarily seize guns for a one-year period that can be extended. She told a panel of state legislators Tuesday that an incomplete understanding of the current law is limiting its use as a precaution against gun violence.
Just nine petitions have been filed to have guns removed since New Mexico’s red-flag law went into effect in May 2020.
“Our (red flag) laws are new, we don’t have interpretations, they’re not comfortable using them,” said Lewis, whose training is underwritten by New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. “When I have talked to officers they always have a story to tell me about why they wanted to use it but didn’t think they could use it.”
President Joe Biden in June signed gun safety legislation that helps states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people judged to be dangerous.
State health officials say they may be able to tap into that funding as New Mexico establishes an gun violence prevention unit at the Department of Health.
The Department of Health plans to begin soliciting grants aimed at preventing gun violence, starting in August.
New Mexico traced 479 deaths to firearms in 2020 in a state of about 2.1 million residents. That places New Mexico in the top 10 states in firearms death per capita.
Democratic state Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil on Tuesday presented a draft bill that would establish a permanent office of gun violence prevention in state statute. She said the office would collect reliable gun violence data that is desperately needed to determine whether the state’s gun laws are effective or if new approaches are needed.
The bill would be considered when the Legislature holds it next regular legislative session in January 2023.
The Democratic-led Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham adopted red flag legislation in response to the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman killed 23 people at a Walmart two years ago in a racially motivated attack.
Some sheriffs in rural areas were openly hostile to the legislation and threatened to avoid enforcement.