With all the drama one would expect with any legislation involving personal firearms, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act was signed into law in February 2020 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It took effect that May. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, only four petitions have been filed statewide seeking to remove firearms from high-risk individuals. That’s four petitions in 15 months.
One bellwether for the legislation should have been the disinterest in the bill from law enforcement. Some county sheriffs even testified they would not enforce the law if passed. Was this all 2nd Amendment bluster? Perhaps. I think it may also be pragmatism from those who deal with violent crime every day.
Look. It’s not like we don’t have gun crime in New Mexico. Albuquerque may or may not have broken its all-time homicide record this week (Plenty of people have been shot within the city limits; we’re just quibbling whether they all count as homicides). The thing is, to remove a firearm from a high-risk individual, the following must take place: A judge must determine probable cause that an individual poses high risk by owning a firearm as proved by law enforcement and prosecutors based on someone threatened and a mental health issue; substance abuse; a committed act of violence; or violations of court orders. And the only individuals qualified to make a report are a current or former spouse or partner, family member or school official.
In the case of most violent crime in the Albuquerque Metro, by the time all that took place, three more people would be shot. And there must be some knowledge of the presence of a firearm in the place; this is just a guess, but I think most violent criminals have not signed up for a concealed carry permit.
But this is focused on domestic violence, proponents say. Yes, like a restraining order, this law could have merit. Yet it again falls on overtaxed law enforcement and prosecutors to get these orders submitted. And it requires the three categories of authorized reporter to be aware of the law and how to make a request and to whom.
There’s another more glaring problem with the law: its brevity and lack of detail. It’s 17 pages long. Essentially, one of three categories of individual can request the removal of a firearm, law enforcement and the DA must file the petition with supporting documentation, and if granted a temporary order is issued, and the weapon is to be relinquished (good luck with that). The temporary order process is immediately followed by a hearing to determine if a one-year order is warranted. In the case of a one-year order, after a year, the complaint filer must refile a complaint to keep the weapon confiscated or it immediately is returned. There is no detail on how or where the weapons are to be stored, or how to pay for storage. Receipts shall be given to the individuals “relinquishing” their weapons though.
It doesn’t take an NRA lifetime member to see that the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act is a headache to process and enforce. It’s unlikely to keep violent people from getting their hands on guns. It may keep the mentally ill from harming themselves or others, but mental health providers can’t even make reports to law enforcement under this law.
Of the four cases filed, three have been successful, according to the New Mexican. All involved individuals with multiple firearms: one suffering from post-traumatic stress reported by family; two individuals threatening former partners. One case was rejected by the presiding judge because the report was made by a mental health provider, who did not meet the criteria of the law as a person authorized to make a report.
Good intentions do not make good laws. Confiscating weapons from violent individuals is an endeavor fraught with peril. Law enforcement sees the worst of the worst of our society every day, including homes torn apart by violence. Perhaps we should listen to them.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.