New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said the state is temporarily suspending open and concealed carry of firearms in Albuquerque and the surrounding county for 30 days, describing the unusual move as a necessary response to gun violence there.
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America, and I’m done letting it be an epidemic anywhere in my state,” Lujan Grisham, who won a second term last year, said in an interview Saturday. “Enough is enough.”
Lujan Grisham said she anticipated legal challenges to this action, and some other officials in the state quickly criticized the move and suggested it was unconstitutional. But she defended the step as vitally necessary for public safety.
The governor said the suspension was a civil order and would be enforced by the state police, rather than any local law enforcement agency. The people who violate the measure would face fines.
Albuquerque, which is the state’s most populous city with more than half a million residents, has in recent years endured a painful increase in gun violence. In each of the last two years, the city set records in terms of homicides. Other communities across the country have also experienced bleak increases in gun violence in recent years.
This year, Albuquerque is among many communities that have seen a decrease in homicides, police data show, though killings in the city are higher than only a few years ago. There were 76 homicide victims in the city through Friday, Albuquerque police data show, down from 93 victims at the same point last year but higher than the 50 victims through that period in 2019.
Lujan Grisham’s announcement came soon after an 11-year-old boy in Albuquerque was shot and killed in an incident that police said appeared to involve an act of road rage. According to police, the boy’s family was leaving a Minor League Baseball game on Wednesday when a person or people in another car fired more than a dozen bullets at them, killing the child and critically injuring his aunt.
“I lost an 11-year-old boy to road rage at a baseball game,” Lujan Grisham said. “That is untenable and must immediately end.”
On Thursday, Lujan Grisham issued an executive order declaring that gun violence was a public health emergency across the state. Her order cited an overall rise in gun deaths across the state and pointed to recent shootings with multiple victims. Among the cases she highlighted were several involving children, including the 11-year-old killed one day before, a 5-year-old killed in August and a 13-year-old killed in July. That order said it took effect Thursday and would last until Oct. 6.
Then on Friday, Lujan Grisham announced the suspension of open and concealed carry of guns in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque, the county seat. During a news briefing with other law enforcement officials alongside her, the governor said the community was struggling to contend with gunfire day after day.
“We have far too many ER gunshot visits and we have far too many crimes involving firearms,” she said during the briefing. This suspension, which was laid out in a public health order, will last 30 days and could be renewed or changed “depending upon where we are,” the governor said at the briefing.
The order said law enforcement officials and licensed security officers were exempted from it. Lujan Grisham also stressed that the suspension applied to public places, not private property, saying during her briefing that “responsible gun owners are certainly not our problem, have never been our problem.”
People who “willfully” violate the edict “may be subject to civil administrative penalties,” the order said. According to the governor’s office, people who violate it could be fined up to $5,000.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina wrote in a message to his department shared publicly on social media that Lujan Grisham “made it clear that state law enforcement, and not APD, will be responsible for enforcement of civil violations of the order.”
A spokeswoman in Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen’s office wrote in an email Saturday that it would “not be responsible for enforcing the order,” saying that Lujan Grisham’s orders “are to be enforced by New Mexico State Police.”
Allen also said in a statement that he had “reservations regarding this order.”
“While I understand and appreciate the urgency, the temporary ban challenges the foundation of the Constitution, which I swore an oath to uphold,” said Allen, who took office earlier this year. “I am wary of placing my deputies in positions that could lead to civil liability conflicts, as well as potential risks posed by prohibiting law-abiding citizens from their constitutional right to self-defense.”
A member of the Albuquerque City Council called the suspension an “overreach of governmental powers” that he said was not constitutional. The top Republican in the state Senate also sharply criticized the governor, saying she was going after “law-abiding citizens with an unconstitutional gun order.”
“Tragically, this is what we have come to expect from an administration that refuses to take responsibility for the crime epidemic gripping our state,” State Sen. Greg Baca said in a statement. “It is time for the governor to stop pointing fingers and admit that her soft-on-crime approach has failed and put the safety of all New Mexicans in great jeopardy.”
Lujan Grisham said Saturday that she disagreed with the idea that the measure was not constitutional, “otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.” She also noted that the question may be decided in court if someone does bring a legal challenge to the move.
Lujan Grisham on Saturday said gun violence is one of the most urgent dangers facing officials and communities in America, arguing that the issue requires significant action.
“I don’t take any of these steps lightly,” she said. But she said people have frequently pleaded with her to do something about seeing others “wielding firearms and threatening individuals, and the sense of lawlessness in the state,” particularly in Albuquerque.
Also on Friday, Lujan Grisham declared an emergency involving drugs, with her order saying that “drug abuse, including the misuse of prescription opioids, fentanyl, heroin, and other illicit substances” was a statewide public health emergency. This order, too, said that it would take effect immediately and remain in place through Oct. 6.