New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's emergency order suspending the right to carry firearms in public in and around Albuquerque drew an immediate court challenge from a gun-rights group Saturday, as legal scholars and advocates said they expected.
The National Association for Gun Rights and Foster Haines, a member who lives in Albuquerque, filed documents in U.S. District Court in New Mexico suing Lujan Grisham and seeking an immediate block to the implementation of her order.
The challenge was expected, but even so, 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, after Lujan Grisham announced that she was temporarily suspending the right to carry firearms in her state’s largest city and surrounding Bernalillo County.
The governor, a Democrat, said the 30-day suspension, enacted as an emergency public health measure, would apply in most public places, from city sidewalks to parks.
She said state police would be responsible for enforcing what amount to civil violations and carry a fine of up to $5,000.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, who once served as a Democratic party leader and was appointed by Lujan Grisham, on Saturday joined Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina saying they wouldn’t enforce the order.
“As an officer of the court, I cannot and will not enforce something that is clearly unconstitutional,” said Bregman, the top prosecutor in the Albuquerque area. “This office will continue to focus on criminals of any age that use guns in the commission of a crime.”
Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said he was uneasy about how gun owners might respond.
“I am wary of placing my deputies in positions that could lead to civil liability conflicts,” Allen said, “as well as the potential risks posed by prohibiting law-abiding citizens from their constitutional right to self-defense.”
Medina noted that Albuquerque police made more than 200 arrests of suspects in killings in the last two years. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said enforcing the order also could put Albuquerque police in a difficult position with a U.S. Department of Justice police reform settlement.
Lujan Grisham said she was was compelled to act following recent shootings including the death this week of an 11-year-old boy outside a minor league baseball stadium and gunfire last month that killed a 5-year-old girl who was asleep in a motor home. The governor also cited the shooting death in August of a 13-year-old girl in Taos County.
“No person, other than a law enforcement officer or licensed security officer, shall possess a firearm ... either openly or concealed,” the governor's order states.
Levinson told The Associated Press Friday over the phone that Lujan Grisham would draw a court fight, saying the governor was “bumping up against the Second Amendment, no doubt about it."
“And we have a very conservative Supreme Court that is poised to expand Second Amendment rights,” Levinson added.
Dudley Brown, founder and president of the Colorado-based gun-rights group, called the governor's action unconstitutional.
“She needs to be held accountable for stripping the God-given rights of millions away with the stroke of a pen,” he said in a statement announcing the lawsuit and request for a restraining order. A court hearing was not immediately set.
The top Republican in the New Mexico Senate, Greg Baca of Belen, also denounced Lujan Grisham’s order as an infringement on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. Dan Lewis, who serves on the nonpartisan Albuquerque City Council, called the order an unconstitutional edict.
Lujan Grisham said gun owners still would be able to transport guns to private locations such as a gun range or gun store if the firearm is in a container or has a trigger lock or mechanism making it impossible to discharge.
The governor's order calls for monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide to ensure compliance with gun laws and for the state Department of Health to compile a report on gunshot victims at hospitals that includes age, race, gender and ethnicity, along with the brand and caliber of firearm involved.
Levinson said she was not aware of any other governor taking a step as restrictive as Lujan Grisham. But she pointed to a proposal by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, to amend the U.S. Constitution to harden federal gun laws.
“I don’t think it will be a political loss for (Lujan Grisham) to be overturned,” 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 June 2022 Bruen case, expanded the right of law-abiding Americans to carry guns in public for self-defense.
He said that ruling takes away the ability to take into account arguments about a compelling government interest, like the gun violence that Lujan Grisham said prompted her order. Now, judges must solely rely on whether any similar historical examples exist.
“They can’t assess whether or not this is going to reduce gun violence. They can’t assess whether or not there are other alternatives that government could have done,” Charles said. He later added, "What it means is that contemporary costs and benefits aren’t 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.