Outrage intensifies over New Mexico governor’s temporary gun ban as sheriff vows not to enforce it

Sep 11, 2023, 9:40 PM

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen calls New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's order suspendin...

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen calls New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's order suspending the carrying of firearms in the state's most populous metropolitan area unconstitutional during a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Allen is among the other municipal law enforcement officials who have said they will not enforce the Democratic governor's order. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

(AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal lawsuits, cries for impeachment and outside protests.

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would welcome a fight after announcing an emergency order to suspend the right to carry firearms in most public places around Albuquerque. That’s exactly what she’s getting.

Since she issued the 30-day public health order on Friday, a furor has rained down from gun owners, state Republican lawmakers and civil rights advocates. Even some in her own party questioned the move.

The sheriff who oversees the county that includes New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, vowed Monday not to enforce it, joining the county’s top prosecutor, and the Albuquerque mayor and city’s police chief.

“It’s unconstitutional, so there’s no way we can enforce that order,” Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said during a news conference. “This ban does nothing to curb gun violence.”

A gun rights group filed a federal lawsuit within 24 hours asking a court to block the order from taking effect, and other federal lawsuits followed. Critics denounced the order as an infringement on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens.

GOP state lawmakers also proposed initiating impeachment proceedings against the governor, a move that would require buy-in from the Democrats who control the Legislature.

“My constituents have reached out to me in droves, emailing and texting me that this is insane, this is horrifying, this is unconstitutional,” said Republican state Rep. John Block of Alamogordo, representing a conservative stronghold in southern New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham, a former congresswoman, began a second term in January and can’t run again immediately for another term.

A key legislative ally of the governor on gun control initiatives urged her to rescind the public health order.

“An unconstitutional approach undermines the important collaboration gun issues deserve, and the important role of a Governor to lead genuine reforms,” Democratic state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Cervantes had successfully sponsored a 2020 red flag law making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

Legal fight expected after New Mexico governor suspends the right to carry guns in public

The head of the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, Randy Kozuch, issued a statement Sunday calling the order a “shocking” act of “administrative fiat.” The ACLU voiced objections that the governor’s actions could lead to overzealous policing and infringe on privacy.

“This kind of approach leads to the over-policing of our communities, racial profiling, and increased misery in the lives of already marginalized people,” said Lalita Moskowitz, litigation manager for the ACLU of New Mexico. “The governor should be following evidence-based solutions such as meaningful diversion and violence intervention programs and addressing the root causes of violence.”

The order applies to open and concealed carry in most public places and is tied to a threshold for violent crime rates currently only met in metropolitan Albuquerque. Police and licensed security guards are exempt.

Violators could face civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000, gubernatorial spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said. Residents still could transport guns to some private locations such as a gun range or gun store, but only with a trigger lock — a container or mechanism making it impossible to discharge.

Lujan Grisham said she was driven by a number of recent child shooting deaths. “It is time to declare an end to this kind of violence. It is in fact an epidemic,” she said last week, while acknowledging criminals surely would ignore her order.

Among the killings, she pointed to the August shooting death in northern New Mexico’s Taos County of 13-year-old Amber Archuleta.

The girl’s father applauded the action, saying his family was destroyed. “We are looking for answers and solutions to this issue,” Joshua Archuleta said in a statement released by his attorney.

Gun safety organizations also voiced support.

Saira Rao, co-founder of Here4TheKids, a group advocating for banning guns and fossil fuels outright, praised Lujan Grisham’s actions — and wished it should be made permanent.

“It’s inhumane that we haven’t eliminated the number one killer of children and teens in this country,” she said. “So I salute the governor for making that first brave step for saving our children.”

The Catholic Church also weighed in. Lujan Grisham “has been consistent in addressing gun safety through legislation and is not now attacking the Second Amendment. She knows the law,” Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said in a statement.

New Mexico was among five states with the highest rates of gun killings in 2021, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center based on death-certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found 11.7 killings per 100,000 people in New Mexico, just below Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and the District of Columbia.

Violent crime has become especially pronounced in metro Albuquerque, where homicides have been on a record-setting pace in recent years. In 2022, a new record was set with 120 people killed, according to police data. This year, there have been 76 victims as of Sept. 8.

Gun-toting protesters held a peaceful rally in Albuquerque’s Old Town area with another scheduled Tuesday in the heart of Albuquerque.

Sheriff Allen claims the governor sprung her plans on officials just moments before her news conference, leaving him shocked and irritated. He plans to push lawmakers to call a special session to address violence in Albuquerque.

“I have to turn my irritation and anger into solutions,” Allen said.

____ Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Nevada, Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington, Terry Tang in Phoenix, and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report, along with Gabe Stern in Reno Nevada, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.

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Outrage intensifies over New Mexico governor’s temporary gun ban as sheriff vows not to enforce it