Attorney General Raúl Torrez is seeking to strengthen the ability to seize guns from those deemed a risk to themselves or others, citing concerns with a recent mass shooting in Maine and similar incidents elsewhere.
Torrez said Wednesday that he would ask the Legislature for “fixes” to New Mexico’s Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, known as the red flag law, which can be used to remove firearms from a person temporarily or on a renewable one-year basis .
The proposed changes include allowing authorities to petition for the removal of someone’s guns and search the person’s home for weapons, protect the identity of those who file a petition — such as a relative or spouse — and for judges to refer cases in which a person is found incompetent to stand trial but may possess weapons at home.
During a news conference Wednesday, Torrez said New Mexicans need to know their options if they’re concerned a relative is a danger and has access to guns.
“My primary concern is that there may be somebody in some community in New Mexico that is in that moment right now. And they don’t know what to do and they don’t know where to go,” Torrez said. “And they need to understand that law enforcement is there to help them if they find themselves in that situation.”
Statewide data shows the number of ERPO petitions being filed has increased drastically in the past two years. Seven were filed between May 2020, when the law took effect, and the end of 2021.
But 48 petitions have been filed since 2022, 27 of those in Bernalillo County, seven in Santa Fe County and five in of San Juan County, according to court data. Of the 55 total petitions filed in New Mexico, three have been denied while 35 were granted for a one-year suspension.
The Albuquerque Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Unit has filed more than two dozen of the petitions in Bernalillo County.
In July, a detective petitioned for an order on a man in his 50s who allegedly harassed his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, slashing her tires and shooting out the boyfriend’s car windows with a rifle, according to court records. The wife wrote the man had a history of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Please he is dangerous his state of mind is not there and escalates daily with rage and anger,” she wrote in an affidavit, adding that she was in fear for her life and those of her family.
On Aug. 8, a District Court judge found the man “poses a significant danger to himself or to others” and approved a one-year ERPO against the man, according to court records. The order required the man to surrender AK-47 and AR-15 rifles and a .45 caliber handgun.
Not every petition was approved.
In February, the same detective petitioned for a ERPO against a man in his 70s whose medical provider said he had a recent onset of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, according to court records. The man’s wife told the provider he was having paranoid hallucinations that she was cheating on him, would become aggressive and had “numerous” guns in a safe.
“I did previously discuss voluntary removal of weapons from the home due to his dementia, and he was adamant that he will not do that,” the provider wrote in an affidavit. “I do feel that given the change in his mental state, and unpredictability with this condition, it would be best that all weapons be removed from his home.”
After a hearing, where the provider didn’t show up and the wife gave testimony, a judge decided there was no reason to file an ERPO against the man, adding “the relative that holds the firearms” may return them to him.
While the majority of petitions were filed in larger counties, according to statewide data, a petition has never been filed in 20 of the 33 counties in New Mexico.
Torrez said he expected authorities in bigger cities would be the “early adopters” while some smaller jurisdictions may not “have the same level of resources” to dedicate to training and implementation. But he said he hoped that would change in the rural areas, both for residents worried about a loved one and for the law enforcement officers who can help.
Torrez sent a letter to all law enforcement agencies in New Mexico, offering free training on how to file petitions to seize someone’s guns as well as the “provisions and procedures” aligned with the red flag law.
“Ultimately, we are hoping that other law enforcement leaders will start recognizing that this is an important tool that is, number one, constitutionally sound, it’s something that strikes the right balance between the Second Amendment, but also the very real concerns that people have about the accessibility of weapons for people who are exhibiting really dangerous signs of psychological distress,” Torrez said.
“It’s a way for us to use existing law and hopefully improve existing law to make everyone safer and to improve public safety and reduce gun violence in those communities. We obviously can’t make people engage in it, but we are certainly making the resource available to them, if they’d like to learn more about it.”