NM governor to sheriffs: Enforce new 'red flag' law or resign
Earlier this month, Sheriff Corey Helton of Lea County said he would rather go to jail than enforce the law
Santa Fe New Mexican
SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed high-profile firearms legislation Tuesday, hailing the new law as a measure that can prevent gun violence and issuing a warning to any sheriffs who might refuse to enforce it.
Under the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, law enforcement can seek a court order to temporarily take firearms and ammunition away from a person who is found to pose a threat. A court hearing must then be held within 10 days, in which the order can be extended to one year. The new law will take effect May 20.
“This is a meaningful tool to address gun violence that can have an impact on saving lives,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference. “We’re here to give law enforcement another tool in the toolbox.”
Tuesday’s signing of Senate Bill 5 made New Mexico the 18th state, plus the District of Columbia, to have a so-called red-flag law on the books. Many passed similar legislation after the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Supporters of the New Mexico measure often cited last year’s massacre at an El Paso Walmart.
President Donald Trump said last year, after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that he supported red-flag legislation.
SB 5 was perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation passed during this year's legislative session in New Mexico, as members of the public packed the galleries at the Roundhouse to give emotional comments in favor and in opposition. The bill was one of Lujan Grisham's priorities during the session.
The Senate passed the bill 22-20 in a suspenseful Feb. 7 vote that was considered the legislation’s biggest test. It also passed the House 39-31.
Lujan Grisham on Tuesday said sheriffs would have to abide by the new law. She called for them to step down if they intend not to.
“They cannot not enforce,” the governor said. “If they really intend to do that, they should resign as a law enforcement officer and leader in that community.”
Earlier this month, Sheriff Corey Helton of Lea County said he would rather go to jail than enforce the law. And on Tuesday, the head of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association said a large majority of sheriffs in the state would refuse to confiscate a person’s firearms if given a court order to do so.
“We don’t work for the governor. We don’t work for the Legislature,” Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace told The New Mexican. “We have discretion to use whichever laws we want.”
Asked about the governor’s comment that sheriffs should resign if they don’t want to enforce the law, Mace added, “it’s disrespectful for an elected official to ask another elected official to step down."
Supporters of the bill — which was sponsored by Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces; Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales; and Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque — have said the measure could save lives in a state beset by gun violence and shaken by the shooting in neighboring El Paso. They also emphasized it could help prevent suicides.
Garratt, who is an educator at Jimmy Carter Middle School in Albuquerque, said her students have been pushing for the state to pass the measure, which would allow school principals to request that a law enforcement officer file a petition for a protection order.
“This means a lot to me,” said Garratt. The law “is going to be one tool to help students feel safer in their schools.”
Aztec police Chief Mike Heal, whose department witnessed a fatal school shooting firsthand, also expressed his support for the new law Tuesday, recalling when two students were killed by a gunman at Aztec High School in December 2017.
“Two of my heroes died that day a horrific death,” Heal said. “I will never forget it, and I will never stop pushing for the safety of our children.”
The New Mexico chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also applauded the new law.
“Across the state and across party lines, New Mexicans want our state to be a leader on gun safety, and lawmakers are continuing to respond with action," said Anamaria Dahl, a volunteer leader with the group.
Yet opponents — including Republican legislators and 29 of the state’s 33 sheriffs, according to Mace — have said the measure is weaker than current state mandates and would have little effect on someone who is determined to take a life. They have also raised concerns that it violates due process as well as the Second and Fourth amendments.
"The progressives in Santa Fe have taken it upon themselves to attack our constitutional rights," New Mexico House Republicans said in a statement. "The people of New Mexico need to be aware that their elected representatives have made it clear that special interests are more important than the rights of our citizens."
Mace said Tuesday that sheriffs plan to challenge the new law in state District Court.
“We tried to debate it in the Legislature and we were battling politics and money from the outside,” Mace said. “Maybe we’ll have a fairer chance in the judicial system as far as the constitutionality of it.”
Lujan Grisham countered that the law doesn’t violate due process and that it will survive any legal challenges in the state.
“We think it’s an incredibly balanced, incredibly effective tool,” she said.