NM Sheriff Concerned About "Red Flag" Law, But Plans To Enforce It

NM Sheriff Concerned About "Red Flag" Law, But Plans To Enforce It

The sheriff of Santa Fe County, New Mexico says that despite his concerns about the state’s new “red flag” law, he plans on enforcing any Extreme Risk Protection Orders filed in his county when the law goes into effect in May.

Sheriff Adan Mendoza tells the Santa Fe New Mexican that he can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce, but that he also has several big issues with the red flag law signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

When it comes to enforcing the red-flag law, Mendoza’s priority is safety — not just for deputies who would enforce the court order, but for everyone involved.

“Obviously, we know that a person possibly could be a threat,” Mendoza said. “There could be some behavioral health issues, some mental health issues that are driving this, and then for us to go to their residence and knock on the door and say we are here to take their firearms — to me, that can be a very volatile situation.”

He also has concerns about the length of time a person has to wait between having their weapons seized and seeing a judge.

Mendoza said he supports Senate Bill 328, passed during last year’s legislative session, which bans people convicted of certain crimes, including domestic violence and stalking, and people subject to a protective order, from possessing firearms.

The difference for him, Mendoza said, is SB 328 allows offenders to have a court hearing before they are required to relinquish their firearms.

“The red-flag law, the firearms are taken, and that action itself — even though in 10 days they may get their due process — at what point do you say, ‘What is due process and when should you have it?’ ” Mendoza said.

One question that the New Mexican failed to ask Sheriff Mendoza is if he supports planned litigation by several sheriffs to sue the state over the red flag law. Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace tells Bearing Arms that he and other sheriffs have been meeting with attorneys in preparation of filing the legal challenge to the new law, but it’s unclear whether Mendoza will sign on or be a party to the litigation.

Meanwhile, the law’s original sponsor in the legislature is still trying to justify the lack of due process protections.

State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who sponsored SB 5, said due process and officer safety are hardwired into it.

“You want the law enforcement officers to be there as a surprise and be able to say, ‘We need to get these guns out now,’ ” Ely said.

One objection to the law, Ely said, is that the person who is subject to the order does not get to attend an initial hearing before a judge.

If that were allowed — and if a person were notified they would have to appear in court within 10 days for a hearing on whether their firearms would be taken away — that would actually create a dangerous situation for officers, Ely said.

“Think about how dangerous that is,” Ely said. “That person has four options at that point. If they’re an imminent threat to themselves, they might kill themselves. If they’re an imminent threat to others, they have been told you have 10 to 15 days to do it.

“They could go to court, in which case they are probably not an imminent threat — they’re probably not who we are targeting,” he added.

If someone is an imminent threat to themselves, then simply taking their guns away doesn’t chance the fact that they could take their life by another means. In fact, we’ve seen that in states like Connecticut and Indiana, where red flag laws haven’t reduced their suicide rate despite having red flag laws on the books for years.

Ely’s explanation reveals another fundamental flaw in “red flag” legislation beyond the constitutional concerns; it doesn’t actually do anything to address an individual in crisis. It simply takes any legally owned guns away from the person, but leaves the individual alone.

I’m disappointed to see Sheriff Mendoza say he’ll enforce the law, and I hope to see his name on the court filing when the lawsuit challenging the red flag law is filed. If he truly is concerned about the effects of the new law, he owes it to his constituents to try to prevent the law from taking effect in the first place.