Emergencyism: New Mexico Governor Lawlessly Suspends State Gun Law
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on Friday suspended the right to bear arms to send “a resounding message.” The order apparently comes in response to the Wednesday shooting death of the third New Mexico child since July 28 — each an unspeakable tragedy, to be sure. But the “message” it sends is way off target.
Lujan Grisham declared gun violence “a statewide public health emergency of unknown duration” in a Thursday order. On Friday, state Health Secretary Patrick Allen released a public health order at the governor’s direction which forbade any person “other than a law enforcement officer or licensed security officer” to “possess a firearm … either openly or concealed.” Allen’s order also addressed drug abuse, for which Lujan Grisham declared a separate state of public health emergency.
The anti-firearms order exempted a person’s private property or property on which they had permission, gun stores, repair shops, firing ranges, and transportation between these locations, provided the gun was disabled in transit.
The order took effect on September 8 for four weeks, or until October 6. At present, it currently affects only Bernalillo County, home to Albuquerque and 30% of the state’s population. The Associated Press reported that “the restriction is tied to a threshold for violent crime rates currently only met by the metropolitan Albuquerque.” However, these limitations contrast so sharply with Lujan Grisham’s characterization of gun violence as a “statewide” emergency “of unknown duration” that it seems reasonable to suspect some attempt might be made to extend or expand it.
As for enforcement, “Any person or entity who willfully violates this order may be subject to civil administrative penalties available at law.” Under New Mexico’s Public Health Emergency Response Act, health officials may impose “a civil administrative penalty of up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each violation.”
Not every provision in the health order seemed to require an emergency declaration. For instance, the order specifically banned firearms from public schools, which is already a felony under New Mexico law. Additionally, the order directed the state Health department to compile a “comprehensive report on gunshot victims presenting at hospitals in New Mexico” within 20 days. The state Health Secretary would likely be within his rights to direct his subordinates to produce such a report without an emergency order.
The problem with Lujan Grisham’s firearms ban is that it is patently illegal. As Frontier Carry summarized the state’s permissive laws, “no license is required to openly carry a firearm,” and “concealed weapon licenses are shall issue,” which means the licensing agency can’t deny a permit without cause. Additionally, “New Mexico does not have purchase permits, gun registration, or gun-owner licensing. There are no limits on magazine capacity or weapon types. There is no waiting period mandated for firearm purchases and private gun sales are legal.” This is the Mountain West we’re talking about here. You can’t just ban firearms.
The governor’s order not only defies state statute, but it also violates the state constitution. The state Bill of Rights provides, “No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.” The New Mexico General Services Administration helpfully notes that “The right to bear arms in the N.M. Constitution is broader than the federal constitution.”
The New Mexico Bill of Rights further declares, “All persons are born equally free, and have certain natural, inherent, and inalienable rights, among which are the rights of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of seeking and obtaining safety and happiness” (emphasis added). The governor’s order would prevent citizens from exercising these “natural, inherent, and inalienable rights” if they, say, desired to defend their life, liberty, and property from would-be carjackers at a gas station or grocery store parking lot.
Albuquerque law enforcement officials expressed skepticism over the constitutional standing of Lujan Grisham’s order. “As an officer of the court, I cannot and will not enforce something that is clearly unconstitutional,” said Albuquerque District Attorney Sam Bregman, who was appointed by Lujan Grisham in January. Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina also said he won’t enforce the order. “While I understand and appreciate the urgency, the temporary ban challenges the foundation of our Constitution, which I swore an oath to uphold,” offered Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen, who nevertheless said he was “ready to cooperate to tackle gun violence,” the AP reported. No law enforcement officers interfered with a gun rights protest in Albuquerque on Sunday.
Even the governor seems to recognize her order brazenly contradicted the law. “I’ve warned everyone that we expect a direct [legal] challenge,” said Lujan Grisham. “Probably as you’re writing this, we’re getting a challenge, and that’s the way it should work. But I have to take a tough direct stand, or basically I’m just ignoring the fact that we lost an 11-year-old, another child.”
Here, Lujan Grisham posed a false dichotomy. There are lots of options between ignoring an 11-year-old’s death and suspending the basic, constitutional right to bear arms. For instance, the government could do its job, namely, execute justice on the perpetrator, who is still at large. “A child is murdered, the perpetrator is still on the loose, and what does the governor do? She … targets law-abiding citizens with an unconstitutional gun order,” New Mexico state Senator Greg Baca (R) responded.
A certain stripe of progressive activist is applauding Lujan Grisham’s unconstitutional order on purely utilitarian grounds. “If it saves one life, then it’s worth doing,” said Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. The obvious corollary to Viscoli’s remark is that, if it costs one life, then it’s not worth doing.
In any event, not even Lujan Grisham is under any illusion that criminals will follow her order, reported local news KRQE. Rather, “she hopes it is ‘a resounding message,’ to everyone else in the community to report gun crime.” New Mexicans, your right to defend your life, liberty, and property is inalienable — unless the governor needs to virtue-signal, that is.
And Lujan Grisham has only a gambler’s chance to achieve even the modest goal of increased community reporting. Her plan is to inspire more community trust for law enforcement with a blatant display of lawlessness and a summary dismissal of a basic constitutional right. Good luck with that. Not to mention, “everyone else in the community” includes legal gun owners targeted by the governor’s order. Does she really expect their cooperation to improve?
“The point here is, is that, if everyone did it, and I wasn’t legally challenged, you would have fewer risks on the street, and I could safely say, to every New Mexican, particularly those folks living in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, I believe that you’re safer for the next 30 days,” said Lujan Grisham. Alas for Lujan Grisham’s strategy, she issued her order in the state of New Mexico, not in a state of mind.
In characteristically progressive fashion, Lujan Grisham asserts that everything would work out just fine if everyone did what she said and all legal obstacles were removed. But while we’re indulging in pure fantasy, why not just stipulate that no one is allowed to murder anyone, and then everyone can keep their guns?
The answer is, because guns are what Lujan Grisham was after in the first place — and has been after for years. “Since 2019, Lujan Grisham has signed a raft of legislation restricting access to guns,” reported the AP, “including a 2020 ‘red flag’ law …, an extension of background-check requirements to nearly all private gun sales,” and “a ban on firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.”
The basic policy problem here is that one city in New Mexico — Albuquerque — has an excessive rate of violent crime. Lujan Grisham’s proposed solution — suspend all gun rights — is entirely disproportionate to the problem, unless the problem was merely a pretext in the first place.
Lujan Grisham is effectively running the White House playbook: manufacture an emergency to justify your predetermined policy preferences, legislate by executive order, and defy anyone to challenge the usurpation on either statutory or constitutional grounds. All this is done in pursuit of a policy agenda more concerned with sending the right message than with delivering the best outcomes for everyone.
In yet another similarity to the White House, Lujan Grisham’s misguided suspension of gun rights invariably sends the wrong message — despite her hopes and protestations to the contrary. It sends the message that New Mexico law does not matter, that it can be bent, ignored, or violated at will. It sends a message with the potential to only further embolden criminals and further depress law-abiding citizens who just want to be left alone.
And it’s the message Albuquerque-area officials have been broadcasting since 2016. For years, the city languished under former Albuquerque District Attorney Raul Torrez, who sailed to an easy victory on the strength of $107,000 in campaign cash from George Soros. Soros has bankrolled a wave of ideologues who have taken over local prosecutors’ offices and steered them toward the singular goal of minimizing convictions in pursuit of some ill-defined, ill-conceived vision of equity. In places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, their lenient policies have sent a clear message that these once-great cities are now open for criminal business.
Ironically, Governor Lujan Grisham’s order does contain provisions that could help fix Albuquerque’s crime problem. Buried at the bottom of the public health order’s mandates are these:
“(7) The Department of Public Safety shall dispatch additional officers and resources to Bernalillo County and work with the Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff to determine the best use of those resources.
“(8) The Department of Public Safety shall coordinate with local law enforcement agencies and the district attorneys’ offices and assist in apprehension of individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.”
Extra law enforcement officers and coordination between departments — now that sounds like a plan that could actually result in apprehending violent criminals. So then, why attempt to suspend gun rights at all?
The “Emergencyism Fad” feeds on fear to manufacture progressive policy outcomes. We know the game is fixed, so why would we play along?
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.