Group sues after New Mexico governor revokes Albuquerque’s right to carry guns in public

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s emergency order suspending the right to carry firearms in public in and around Albuquerque sparked an immediate court challenge Saturday from a gun rights group, as legal scholars and advocates had expected.

The National Association for Gun Rights and Foster Haines, a member who lives in Albuquerque, filed a lawsuit against Lujan Grisham in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, demanding an immediate block on implementation of their order.

The challenge was to be expected, but nonetheless, the governor’s action Friday was an attempt to “move the debate,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount’s Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, according to Lujan Grisham announced that it temporarily suspended the right to bear firearms in her state’s largest city and surrounding Bernalillo County.

The governor, a Democrat, said the 30-day suspension, implemented as a public health emergency measure, would apply in most public places, from city sidewalks to parks.

She said state police are responsible for enforcing civil violations and will issue a fine of up to $5,000.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, who once served as Democratic Party chairman and was appointed by Lujan Grisham, joined Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina on Saturday in saying they would not enforce the order .

“As an officer of the court, I cannot and will not enforce anything that is clearly unconstitutional,” said Bregman, the Albuquerque area’s top prosecutor. “This office will continue to focus on criminals of all ages who use firearms in the commission of a crime.”

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said he was concerned about how gun owners would react.

“I am cautious about placing my deputies in positions that could give rise to civil liability conflicts,” Allen said, “as well as the potential risks posed by denying law-abiding citizens their constitutional right to self-defense.”

Medina noted that Albuquerque police have arrested more than 200 suspects in homicides in the last two years. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said enforcing the order could also put Albuquerque police in a difficult position with the U.S. Department of Justice Regulation on police reform.

Lujan Grisham said she was forced to act after recent shootings, including the death of one person this week 11 year old boy outside a minor league ballpark and shootings last month that killed a… 5 year old girl who slept in a mobile home. The governor also cited the shooting of a 13-year-old girl in Taos County in August.

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks before President Joe Biden speaks about the economy at the Arcosa Wind Towers factory on Wednesday, August 9, 2023, in Belen, NM (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks before President Joe Biden speaks about the economy at the Arcosa Wind Towers factory on Wednesday, August 9, 2023, in Belen, NM (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“No person other than a police officer or a licensed security officer shall possess a firearm…either openly or concealed,” the governor’s order states.

Levinson told The Associated Press by phone Friday that Lujan Grisham would pursue a legal challenge, saying the governor was “undoubtedly violating the Second Amendment.”

“And we have a very conservative Supreme Court that is willing to expand Second Amendment rights,” Levinson added.

Dudley Brown, founder and president of the Colorado-based gun rights group, called the governor’s actions unconstitutional.

“She must be held accountable for stripping the God-given rights of millions of people with the stroke of a pen,” he said in a statement announcing the lawsuit and request for a preliminary injunction. A court hearing was not immediately scheduled.

The top Republican in the New Mexico Senate, Greg Baca of Belen, also condemned Lujan Grisham’s order as a violation of the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. Dan Lewis, a member of the nonpartisan Albuquerque City Council, called the order an unconstitutional edict.

Lujan Grisham said gun owners would still be able to transport guns to private locations, such as a shooting range or gun shop, if the gun is in a container or has a trigger lock or mechanism that makes it impossible to fire.

The governor’s order requires monthly inspections of firearm dealers across the state to ensure compliance with gun laws and requires the state Department of Health to prepare a report on hospital gunshot victims that includes age, race, gender and ethnicity, as well as make and caliber of firearms contains firearm involved.

Levinson said she was not aware of any other governor taking such a restrictive step as Lujan Grisham. However, she pointed to a proposal from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. to amend the US Constitution to tighten federal gun laws.

“I don’t think it will be a political loss for (Lujan Grisham) to be ousted,” Levinson said. “She can say she did everything she could but was stopped by the courts.”

Jacob Charles, a law professor at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law who studies the Second Amendment, noted that the Supreme Court in the Bruen case from June 2022expanded the right of law-abiding Americans to bear arms in public for self-defense.

He said the ruling takes away the opportunity to consider arguments about a compelling government interest, such as the gun violence that Lujan Grisham said led to its order. Now judges must rely solely on whether similar historical examples exist.

“You can’t estimate whether this will reduce gun violence or not. They cannot judge whether there are other alternatives that the government could have done,” Charles said. He later added: “This means that current costs and benefits are not part of the analysis.”

Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Stern and Sonner reported from Reno, Nevada. Associated Press writers Rio Yamat in Las Vegas, Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Terry Tang in Phoenix and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report. Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America places journalists in local newsrooms across the country to report on undercovered issues.

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