On August 6, 2019 Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a “Domestic Terrorism Summit”. She invited top state law enforcement officials and legislative leaders from both political parties. The call for the summit was in reaction to the August 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 22. The goal of the summit was to come up with precautions against domestic terrorism.
New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation. The 21-year old arrested for carrying out the El Paso attack killing 22 reportedly wanted to target people of Mexican descent. Lujan Grisham expressed her concern about the influence of ideologies of white supremacy and racism and said “I would expect that we are going to do more to know about our hate groups in the state and what can we do”.
The Governor suggested that New Mexico needs to keep a closer track of hate groups. It was announced that part of the summit would include a closed-door briefing from the Federal Bureau of Investigations(FBI) officials. The Governor suggested that gun-related legislation would be drafted based on recommendations of the summit in advance of next year’s 30-day session.
In a statement announcing the summit, Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“It is too easy for dangerous, violent and mentally ill individuals to obtain an instrument of mass death in this country, and hateful rhetoric can directly lead to destructive and heinous acts. … In New Mexico, we will be on the [fore front] … and I look forward to this discussion.”
In announcing the summit, the Governor suggested background checks that could apply to sellers of guns and said:
“In these horrific, horrific situations, I’m seeing members of our state and folks around the country talk about background checks that could apply to sellers. … Then we can track the movement of firearms.”
The Governor also suggested she wanted to discuss new strategies for responding to youths who exhibit signs of anger.
On gun control, Lujan Grisham said she wanted the Legislature to take up again the proposals for “red-flag” legislation that makes it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or seeking violence against others. A “red flag” bill passed the New Mexico House in the 2019 session but it was never voted on by the State Senate.
AUGUST 13, 2019 DOMESTIC TERRORISM SUMMIT
The Domestic Terrorism Summit was convened on August 23, 2019 at the Santa Fe capital. The summit was closed to news media because it involved sensitive law enforcement discussions with a confidential and sensitive briefing from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
After the briefing from the FBI and others the governor said there was no reason to believe New Mexico is at greater risk of future mass shootings than any other state. The Governor did suggest that “hyper-charged political rhetoric” and shortcomings in key areas could put the state at risk for domestic terrorism attacks.
Two areas of concern are law enforcement data sharing and mental health services. During the after-summit press conference, state officials and some county sheriffs vowed to get to work on better data-sharing immediately. With respect to mental health service, the Governor said “This is a state that is still woefully unprepared when it comes to behavioral health.”
After the summit, the Governor held a press conference and announced a number of measures to be considered and added to the 2020 thirty-day legislative session that begins in mid January.
Those measures include:
1. Toughen hate crime penalties. The criminal penalty for those convicted of hate crimes would be increased. Under current law, if a criminal defendant is proved to be motivated by the victim’s race, religion, age, gender or sexual orientation, the jail sentence can be enhanced by one year.
2. Expand the State’s mental health system. This has been a major priority of the Governor given her longstanding positions on mental health over the years.
3. Create a new anti-terrorism law enforcement unit. This no doubt will be the responsibility of the Department of Homeland security to to implement and coordinate state wide law enforcement efforts.
4. Improve data-sharing about potential threats. The Governor directed her state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department to start enrolling all 33 county sheriffs in a data-sharing program so that individuals deemed a potential risk could be flagged and monitored.
5. Extending background checks on private gun sales to sellers of firearms.
What was noticeably absent from the proposals was that no ban on assault weapons was proposed. Assault weapons are the weapons of choice of the domestic terrorist. This does not mean no attempt will be made to ban assault weapons during the 2020 legislative session. What also was absence was any discussion on funding from the legislature to carry out the new proposals. It is more than likely the sheriff’s departments throughout the state will need resources to implement the universal background system.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who attended the summit, had this to say:
“I think we all recognize the growing threat level deserves consideration. … If you have a very, very dangerous individual – that the penalties at least be proportional to the amount of terror and potential harm for communities. So we have identified some areas in the statue that probably need to be looked at.”
The Governor did make it clear that she will not call a “special session” before the 2020 session as was proposed by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf. Speaker of the House Egolf attended the summit and afterwards said: “We now have a road map for what we’ll do in the next session.”
NEW MEXICO SLIGHTLY AHEAD OF THE CURVE
During the 2019 legislative session, two gun control bills passed and were signed into law by the Governor. Those measures were background checks on all gun sales and a law prohibiting the possession of guns by convicted domestic abusers. The background check law was strenuously opposed by Republican lawmakers and most New Mexico sheriffs. The Republicans initiated a lawsuit to have the courts set the background checks legislation aside. Some elected County Sheriff’s went so far as to say they would not enforce the laws prompting the Attorney General to issue a stern warning that they were required to enforce the law. New Mexico also limits who can carry firearms on school grounds to trained security personnel.
New Mexico County Sheriffs have been working with Democrat State Representative Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, on a compromise “red flag” legislation he sponsored in the 2019 legislative session. The legislation would have allowed courts to order the temporary taking of guns from someone deemed an immediate threat. It passed the House of Representatives during this year’s 60-day session but it failed to make it through the Senate before the 2019 legislative session ended. Opponents of the red flag bill say it failed to include adequate legal safeguards to protect the rights of gun owners.
IT COULD EASILY HAPPEN HERE
What happened on August 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas with the targeting people of Hispanic descent could very easily happen in Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and probably in any other major city or town in New Mexico. State Police Chief Tim Johnson acknowledged this fact when he said after the summit New Mexico needs better communication to help prevent mass shootings and said:
“I know we work closely together on many other things. … This one is very important based on what happened recently and the trend that’s going on around our country. I know New Mexico has had some incidents of this, maybe on a smaller scale. We’ve been fortunate enough not to have one on the scale of El Paso.”
The gunman in the August 3, 2019 in El Paso shooting planned and carefully selected the Walmart store because it was filled with Hispanic families and shoppers from Mexico. The El Paso shooter lived and drove from a suburb near Dallas, Texas to El Paso to carry out his mass slaughter. Authorities reported that they found a “manifesto” purportedly written by the shooter perhaps even in the hours before the shooting attack. His social media activity showed support and sympathy for Trump’s white nationalist agenda. According to one report, the shooter allegedly professed his white nationalist ideology and his belief that Texas is under a “Hispanic invasion” and advocating building Trump’s border wall.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Governor Lujan Grisham was totally justified in expressing her concern about the influence of ideologies of white supremacy and racism in New Mexico and said “I would expect that we are going to do more to know about our hate groups in the state and what can we do”.
By all reports, the domestic terrorism summit was a success given the proposals that were announced. State officials and some county sheriffs who attended the summit vowed to get to work on better data-sharing immediately. As Speaker of the House Brian Egolf said: “We now have a road map for what we’ll do in the next session.”
There are other legislative proposals that should be considered by the 2020 New Mexico Legislature that could help curtail domestic terrorism and gun violence. The New Mexico legislature should consider:
1. Repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote. There is no doubt such action would generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.
2. Ban in New Mexico the manufacture, sale and distribution to the general public of semi-automatic firearms, AR-15 style rifles, assault weapons, semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic shotguns and weapons to the general public in New Mexico.
4. 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.
5. Require 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.
6. Enact red flag legislation for a violence restraining order and allow for an “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.
7. 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.
8. Allocate funding to the school systems and higher education institutions to “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.
Former United States Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham knows full well he United States Congress needs to enact reasonable and responsible gun control measures and ban assault weapons. While in congress, she aggressively supported stop gun violence legislation. Unless congress acts we can expect more mass shootings at soft targets such as schools, movie theaters, malls, department stores and major public events like concerts and at state fairs. The mass shootings will again be followed by the predictable cycle of news coverage, more outrage, more nighttime candle vigils, more funerals, more condolences, more rhetoric demanding action. In the end, nothing will be done, congress will not take action and more mass shootings will occur, there will no reasonable gun control legislation and assault weapons will be available to whoever wants one.
Until the United States Congress acts, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature are wise to do all they can and enact as many state laws to prevent gun violence in the State and to combat domestic terrorism. The Domestic Terrorism Summit was a good start for the 2020 New Mexico Legislative Session.