The Albuquerque Journal’s February 24, 2018 front page headline “DA calls for action against gun violence; Torrez urges passage of laws to curb school shooter threats” was no surprise and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez’s call to action was predictable.
District Attorney Raul Torrez said in his press conference:
“We must act and act now – the level of gun violence in this country, and in this community, is unacceptably high. … Each of us must come together and say with one voice: ‘Enough is enough’ … The lives that have been lost in this state, and across the country, it’s not a joke to anyone and needs to be taken seriously.”
Promising a “zero tolerance” from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office when it comes to school safety and gun violence, DA Torrez sent a letter to the New Mexico Legislature and Governor Martinez for “immediate consideration” to give law enforcement the proper tools to punish those responsible for making threats against a school.
In December, 2017, a former student walked into Aztec High School and gunned down two students before killing himself.
Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida that killed 17 a few weeks ago, New Mexico has seen more than a dozen threats against schools in 11 different communities in New Mexico within one weeks’ time.
The fact that District Attorney Raul Torres writes a letter to the legislature and Governor Martinez a few weeks after the legislative session ends and days after the Florida shooting and then holds a press conference on what he proposes smacks of political hyperbole.
What is “hard to take seriously”, to use Torrez’s words, is a lone District Attorney advocating the “immediate consideration” of legislation giving law enforcement more tools to “punish” those responsible for making threats against a school and advocating a special session of the New Mexico legislature to be convened to enact what he wants.
Three (3) of the eleven (11) biggest mass shootings in American history have now taken place in the United States in the last five (5) months and Torrez has been in office over a year.
Political hyperbole from our District Attorney should not come as any surprise seeing as Torrez for the last year has blamed lack of resources, the courts and the legislature for our high crime rates and accused the defense bar of “gamesmanship” to the point he declared our criminal justice system broken.
Torrez did not make any of his proposals during this year’s legislative session where he was given just about all he wanted for his budget to the tune of a $4.5 million increase in his $118 million-dollar budget which will now be $122.5 million.
With the passage of his new budget during the recent 30-day session, Torrez is to be commended for at least dedicating three full-time prosecutors who specialize in gun offenses and focusing on prosecuting federally-eligible cases in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY TORREZ’ S CALL FOR ACTION
District Attorney Raul Torrez wants students who threaten to bring a firearm to school, regardless of what their intent is, to face felony charges, not a misdemeanor charge which has a penalty of from three months up to six months in jail.
Torrez wants lawmakers to make school shooting threats on social media a felony, claiming our laws have not kept up with the times.
Torrez says while the law addresses different types of threats, like bomb threats, New Mexico law does not cover if someone makes a threat of gun violence in schools or other public places made on social media such as FACEBOOK and chat rooms online.
Currently, if you are caught making a threat on a school, you’re charged with “interference with the educational process,” which is a petty misdemeanor.
Such changes in the law are easier said than done.
Torrez advocates it should be a felony, but does not say what degree of felony.
A fourth-degree felony in New Mexico for example can carry a basic sentence of 4 years in jail and up to 6 years in jail when aggravating circumstances are found and there are third, second and first-degree felonies carrying progressive sentencing terms.
Sounds good in principle, but Torrez does not address what local law enforcement resources will be needed to monitor social media like FACEBOOK, especially for communities like Albuquerque that is shorthanded by some 250 law enforcement personnel with a city facing some of the highest violent and property crime rates in the country.
In order to increase prison time for juveniles under 18, the legislature will need to make major changes to the New Mexico Children’s’ Code which deals with the prosecution and incarceration of juveniles, which is defined as someone under the age of 18, and the maximum sentence of incarceration for any juvenile upon conviction is two years, regardless of the crime, even murder.
There are complicated provisions that do allow for juveniles to be charged and sentenced as adults, and this too would require action by the legislature to include new laws relating to school shootings and gun violence committed by juveniles.
Torrez wants his prosecutors to immediately seek pretrial detention, keeping suspects behind bars, presumably to include juveniles, until their trial occurs over charges involving threats to schools and school shootings.
The “gun safety” procedures Torrez also is advocating are:
1. Universal, mandatory background checks for the sale and trade of firearms.
2. Mandatory surrender of firearms by someone with a domestic violence conviction.
3. Enacting a “red flag law”, gun violence restraining order process within the civil courts to allow police to remove firearms from a home for the duration of court proceedings.
TALKING WITHOUT SPEAKING
There are many components that will be needed to address America’s mass shooting epidemic.
What is conspicuously absent from Mr. Torrez’s talk and call for action is any meaningful gun control legislation to curb the sale and the availability of the type of weapons used in the mass killings.
Areas District Attorney Raul Torres did not speak about or not asked about and reported on by the media during his press conference include:
1. Repealing the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms without permits.
2. If New Mexico should raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase and own guns.
3. If school and college teachers, coaches and school administrators should or should not carry guns to help protect themselves and students.
4. If the Albuquerque Public School system should increase funding to “harden our schools” and secure our schools with the use of metal detectors, security doors, and armed officers.
5. His position on “gun free zones” or “safe zones”.
Glaringly absent from the Torrez call for action is to make available more mental health counseling, perhaps within our schools, and mental health treatment facilities, more parental involvement and responsibility, better educational systems, early childhood intervention to prevent child abuse, early child care intervention programs and to identify and get help and counseling to emotionally and violent children, and far more action to “harden” our schools.
Torrez talks and makes a call to action, but does not speak about what needs to be done to reduce school shootings and threats.
LISTENING WITHOUT HEARING
Since 1995, the United States has had 95 mass shootings, including seven of the 11 deadliest.
Three of the 11 biggest mass shootings in American history have now taken place in the United States in the last five months.
There is no doubt we have a deadly mass shooting epidemic on our hands.
The mass shooting with guns in the last 10 years include: Orlando, Florida (49 killed, 50 injured), Blacksburg, Va. (32 killed), San Ysidro, Cal (21 killed), San Bernardino, (14 killed), Edmond Oklahoma (14 killed), Fort Hood (13 killed), Binghamton, NY (13 killed) Washington, DC (12 killed), Aurora, Colorado (12 killed), Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn (21 children and 6 adult staff members killed) and the largest mass shooting in this country’s history that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada with at least 59 dead and at least 515 wounded.
After so many mass killings, it is difficult to refute that something needs to be done about semi-automatic and automatic guns such as the AR-15, or the type used in all the mass shootings and that are the weapons of choice for mass murderers.
Torrez no doubt has listened to all the news reports, but does not hear what is being proposed nor may not even hear what needs to be done.
OTHER PROPOSALS TO CONSIDER LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY
There are many legislative proposals, albeit too controversial for many running for office and who hold office to stomach, that could be considered on a state level and on the federal level that could be proposed or enacted by our federal and state officials and those running for office.
In New Mexico, our legislature could consider:
1. Repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.
2. Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.
3. Requiring in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.
4. Enact a gun violence restraining order and extreme risk protection process to temporarily prohibit an individual deemed by a judge to pose a danger to self or others, from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition and allow law local law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession.
5. Restrict and penalize firearm possession by or transfer to a person subject to a domestic violence protection order or a person, including dating partners, convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.
6. Mandate the school systems and higher education institutions “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, and security measures and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.
On a federal level, congress could consider:
1. Implementation of background checks on the sale of all guns.
2. Close the “Charleston loophole” or “delayed denial” where federally licensed dealers can sell guns if three business days pass without FBI clearance.
3. Call for the update and enhancement of the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NCIS).
4. Institute mandatory extended waiting periods for all gun purchases.
5. Implement mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
6. Ban “bump-fire stocks” as was used in the Las Vegas mass shooting and other dangerous accessories.
7. Ban future manufacture and sale of all assault weapons and regulate existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and initiate a federal gun buyback program.
8. Impose limits on high capacity magazines.
9. Prohibit firearm sale or transfer to and receipt or possession by an individual who has: (1) been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor hate crime, or (2) received from any court an enhanced hate crime misdemeanor sentence.
10. Institute mandatory child access prevention safe storage requirements and prohibit the sales of handguns with “hair triggers”.
11. Provide more resources and treatment for people with mental illness.
12. Enhance accountability of federally licensed firearms dealers.
13. Implement micro stamped code on each bullet that links it to a specific gun.
14. Produce ‘x-mart guns’ with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or biometric recognition (fingerprint) capability.
15. Limit gun purchases to one gun per month to reduce trafficking and straw purchases.
16. Prohibit open carry of firearms.
17. Digitize Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire (ATF) gun records.
18. Require licensing for ammunition dealer.
Proposing more tools “to punish” as being advocated by District Attorney Raul Torrez is not the only thing that is needed to solve the mass shooting epidemic in this country.
Now that we are in an election year, New Mexico voters need to demand the positions from our candidates for Governor, for the New Mexico legislature and those running for congress where they stand on gun control and say what they think needs to be done to do to stop the mass shootings.
Voters need to ask Raul Torrez his position on control measures and what other changes he is willing to advocate before the New Mexico legislature in the upcoming 2019 session.
Given his success during the last legislative session, District Attorney Raul Torrez should seek help and support from all District Attorneys in New Mexico and make major proposals in the passage of meaningful and reasonable gun control legislation if he wants a genuine call to action as opposed to short term media coverage contributing to political hyperbole.
For more commentary, please see:
1. February 2, 2017, “Notes To The Really Smart Guy” at:
2. February 16, 2018 blog article “When And Where Do We Begin With Stopping Gun Violence” at:
3. February 15, 2018 blog article “What We Hear Is The Sounds Of Silence” at: