When New Mexico lawmakers approved a temporary firearm seizure bill in February, they had little idea it would take effect during a pandemic.
Despite the upheaval caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act – or red flag gun law – is one of 46 new state laws that take effect Wednesday.
While some law enforcement agencies have been researching the law and developing plans for its implementation, at least one county sheriff said there’s been a lack of guidance from the state’s judicial branch.
“Once again, New Mexico has passed a law but given no direction” on how it should be applied, San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari said. The sheriff said he received three calls Tuesday from other law enforcement officers seeking more clarity about the red flag gun law.
However, Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored this year’s bill, said Tuesday that she has been impressed by the amount of groundwork done and believes most law enforcement officials will abide by the new law. She also predicted it will be used rarely.
“The law enforcement people who see this as a tool … say it will be used judiciously in situations where no other tools work,” Garratt told the Journal.
She also said lawmakers could make technical changes to the law during the 2021 legislative session if logistical issues arise in the coming months.
Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said APD has been researching how similar laws were implemented in Washington, Colorado and Florida.
In addition, the Police Department has been working with District Court officials and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to try to make sure the law is applied consistently, Gallegos said.
“We are also working through legal issues to ensure our officers and detectives are properly trained and they know exactly what is expected of them,” he said.
The new law was a top initiative of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s during this year’s 30-day session and will allow firearms to be temporarily taken away from those deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
It was passed after fierce debate at the Roundhouse, and some sheriffs indicated they might not enforce the bill, citing concerns over constitutional due process issues.
A lawsuit seeking to strike down the new law is still in the works, said Ferrari. Some individual New Mexicans may file court challenges, he said.
He also said the new law could increase tensions at a time when many New Mexico Republicans are urging Lujan Grisham to further relax business restrictions imposed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“People are frustrated right now,” Ferrari told the Journal.
But backers insist the bill is legally defensible and predict it will, over time, reduce New Mexico’s high rates of firearm-related deaths, including suicides.
The new law allows law enforcement officers – acting on information provided by a relative or household member – to seek a court order prohibiting someone from having firearms.
An officer’s decision whether to seek the court order will be based on whether there’s probable cause to believe the individual poses a danger of causing “imminent personal injury” to themselves or others.
If a petition is granted, a judge could order the immediate seizure of the person’s firearms for up to 10 days, until a hearing can be held. After a hearing, the firearms ban could be extended one year.
Barry Massey, the spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Tuesday that court employees have been given information about how to handle the new cases.
“District courts are prepared to process any cases that are filed under the new law,” Massey said.
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