New Mexico's senior U.S. Senator, Martin Heinrich, praised a bipartisan agreement on new gun safety legislation during a news conference Monday afternoon, presenting the compromise as a crucial first step toward reducing gun violence in America.
Heinrich was among 10 Democrats who reached a deal with 10 Republicans in the Senate on a package he said will include resources helping states and tribes implement crisis intervention order laws, also known as "red flag" laws, similar to one passed in New Mexico in 2020.
The bill is also expected to prohibit people from owning guns if convicted of domestic violence or the subject of a domestic violence restraining order by an unmarried partner. This would close the so-called "boyfriend loophole" in current law forbidding gun ownership to those married to, living with or parent of a child with someone they have abused.
Other features agreed to include increased checks for gun purchasers under the age of 21, investments in community and school-based mental health services and safety measures for primary and secondary schools.
"Ironically, while trafficking firearms into the United States is a major crime, trafficking firearms out of the U.S. is not," he said.
Heinrich said he approached the negotiations as an avid hunter and a father whose children grew up practicing active shooter drills at school.
The agreement, for which legislative language was still being drafted Monday, follows a slew of back-to-back mass shootings around the country including the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.
Democrats have been defending the deal against critics who say more immediate action is necessary to curtail frequent and seemingly random incidents of violence and suicide involving firearms.
"Progress has to start somewhere," he said. "The hardest part of every negotiation is letting go of the perfect for the possible."
Despite the intractable politics of gun legislation, Heinrich said a different tone prevailed in these negotiations and that there was a focus shared among both parties on leaving the partisan rift over guns aside and making some improvements in federal law.
He demurred, however, when asked what he wished was in the package that ultimately emerged: "To get this across the finish line, I really am just going to focus on what's in this framework. … This will solve a lot of gun violence — not everything, not enough, but this will save lives."
New Mexico's crisis intervention law, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, permits prosecutors or law enforcement officers to petition a court for a temporary seizure of firearms owned by someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The law was opposed by most county sheriffs and gun liberty advocates in New Mexico, and the Albuquerque Journal recently reported that it had been used a total of nine times since it was enacted. In some of the 18 other states plus the District of Columbia with similar laws, petitions have been sought and granted far more frequently.
Heinrich said due process guarantees were a prerequisite for federal support for such laws. He also suggested this tool would come to be more widely accepted as more agencies practiced it.
"The law enforcement that has successfully used these laws to intervene in places around the country are starting to tell that story," he said. "I think that story is going to be told more and more often, from the perspective not only of the families but also from the perspective of law enforcement."