AP NEWS

Yes, pass laws to protect the vulnerable

March 2, 2019

Among the sensible gun safety proposals being considered in the New Mexico Legislature, one has great potential to save lives. That’s because removing guns from the hands of people already found to have used violence in their homes means fewer women, and likely children, will die.

The statistics tell the story.

The presence of a gun where domestic violence has occurred makes it five times more likely that a woman will die. Between 2001 and 2012, more than 6,000 women were shot and killed by a partner using a firearm, according to Center for American Progress Statistics. States that already collect guns from people under restraining orders have a 22 percent lower rate of intimate-partner homicide by gun than those, like New Mexico, that do not. Right now, our state has no way to remove guns from known abusers.

Yet New Mexico can easily join 27 other states in the United States that allow weapons to be removed in situations where domestic violence has been documented, whether because someone has been convicted of an offense or because a judge has placed a restraining order to prevent future violence. This is not just sensible legislation, House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 328 are powerful — making vulnerable women and children safer.

Other measures (HB 8/SB 8) concern background checks on gun buyers shopping privately. Another, HB 83, would allow concerned family members or police to seek court help in removing weapons from someone in a mental health crisis. These extreme-risk protection orders would enable the community to safeguard both itself and someone in need of intervention. (Both House Bills 83/87 are scheduled to be heard some time Saturday afternoon in the Senate Public Affairs Committee.)

With the support of young people, Santa Fe Rep. Linda Trujillo is sponsoring HB 130, creating criminal penalties for negligently storing a firearm. The Child Access Prevention Act is backed by area teens who asked Trujillo to sponsor the bill, understanding that better storage can prevent accidental death or injuries, suicides or even shooting sprees.

Obviously, Second Amendment absolutists do not want any laws that they believe will make it harder for people to buy or use their weapons. However, legislation being discussed in New Mexico is in place in other states and at the federal level — these are constitutional proposals, something that should give critics comfort.

Among those critics are many elected sheriffs in rural counties — including Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan, who was investigated for domestic violence back in 2018. A Rio Grande Sun story at the time detailed the accusations, including the information that Lujan had been the subject of an emergency restraining order. Yes, had this law been in place, the sheriff might have had to turn in his gun while the order was in place. That’s exactly how the law is supposed to work.

Too many New Mexico sheriffs, sadly, rather than seeking to protect women and children, seem more concerned about gun owners than potential victims. Just as with similar actions in Washington, Oregon and Illinois, rural New Mexico counties have passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” meaning those counties are saying they will not put resources toward enforcing new gun safety laws. As we already have written, those sheriffs and counties are free to challenge laws they oppose — in court — but should not declare themselves judge and jury to determine what is or isn’t constitutional. That is not the way the American system works.

Attorney General Hector Balderas, our state’s chief law enforcement officer, needs to be more firm on this issue. So far, through a spokesman, he has said simply: “Local officials must ensure the health and safety of their residents and should appropriately comply with state and federal law.” That’s not strong enough. He needs to remind sheriffs that their oaths of office require upholding the laws of the state.

The Legislature passes those laws, and the executive — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — signs them. Then, officers of different law enforcement agencies enforce statutes. Lujan Grisham, unlike many politicians afraid of gun lobbyists — including the National Rifle Association — is refusing to back down. Good for her. She campaigned on gun safety reform, after all, so her support of these bills is hardly surprising. She took to Twitter earlier this week, saying, among other things: “I’m not daunted by obstacles, whether it’s NRA propaganda, rogue sheriffs throwing a childish pity party or bad-faith critics. Legislative leaders and I will continue to fight the scourge of gun violence in our communities. #nmleg #nmpol #SB8.”

That’s the right emphasis. Fight the source of gun violence. Protect the vulnerable. And, at the same time, continue to uphold the rights of citizens to own and use their weapons. Now, the overwhelming majority of New Mexico citizens who want stronger gun safety laws need to make sure their legislators hear from them. Otherwise, distractions will win out and these important measures will fail. It’s that simple.