How are red flag laws used in New Mexico?

How are red flag laws used in New Mexico?

The controversial red flag law was passed as a tool to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Up until now, it's been rarely used.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The controversial red flag law was passed as a tool to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Up until now, it’s been rarely used.

First, the red flag law is widely misunderstood – it is complicated – and some advocates believe that is the reason it is not used more often.

The red flag law is a temporary order started by a normal person, employer, or even school personnel member to remove guns from someone whom a judge agrees could be dangerous.

A map shows the judicial districts that have seen the most instances of someone attempting to remove guns from someone under the red flag law.

Bernalillo County leads the way. KOB 4 found that 28 cases have been filed to try and remove guns from people this year – that is more than double what we found in the rest of the state.

KOB 4 talked to the Second Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman about the numbers.

“Good! That’s my initial impression, that that’s a good thing. I think law enforcement here in Bernalillo County has bought into this as an effective way to help get guns out of the possession of people that are posing an extreme risk to themselves, or to others,” said Bregman. 

While district attorneys and prosecutors play a role, it’s largely up to police officers to work with concerned citizens to start the process of using the red flag law.

While it’s clear the red flag law has been used more in the northern part of the state, there are some places like Rio Rancho – one of the biggest cities in the state – where the district attorney there says in three years she doesn’t recall this law getting used once.

But she emphasizes how misunderstood the law is.

“It’s something that I think the attempt is good to try to deal with a situation in our society of people being harmed by weapons, but at the same time, people sometimes forget that has to be balanced by the constitutions that we abide by. And because of that, things usually don’t happen as quickly as people would want them to,” said District Attorney Barbara Romo. 

This is considered an emergency order – but it still can take days to remove someone’s guns. A judge needs to sign off on these orders, and even then, the judge will order someone to turn in their guns – police don’t go kicking down doors to take them.

In southern New Mexico, sheriff’s departments and others came out against this law when it was passed in 2020. In Las Cruces, another one of the most populated areas in our state, KOB didn’t find a single case filed this year.

The Las Cruces Police Department confirmed they have not used it.

One advocate says they believe that’s not because of political reasons, but because of a lack of training.

The attorney general’s office has taken up the job of helping organize training for agencies to show them how to use the current red flag laws.

Rio Rancho police, Las Cruces Police Department, New Mexico State Police, and New Mexico Game and Fish are among the agencies set to learn how to use this law.

Some say the law is still too complicated, and there’s too much responsibility on the family member, school official, or employer to see the process through from start to finish.

Conversations are happening now, pushing for the governor to make changes to the red flag law as soon as this upcoming session. The next legislative session begins on Jan. 16.