By Morgan Lee
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday issued an emergency order suspending the right to carry firearms in public across Albuquerque and the surrounding county for at least 30 days in response to a spate of gun violence.
The Democratic governor said she expects legal challenges but was compelled to act because of recent shootings, including the death of an 11-year-old boy outside a minor league baseball stadium this week.
Lujan Grisham said state police would be responsible for enforcing what amount to civil violations. Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said he won't enforce it, and Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said he's uneasy about it because it raises too many questions about constitutional rights.
The firearms suspension, classified as an emergency public health order, applies to open and concealed carry in most public places, from city sidewalks to urban recreational parks. The restriction is tied to a threshold for violent crime rates currently only met by the metropolitan Albuquerque. Police and licensed security guards are exempt from the temporary ban.
Violators could face civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000, gubernatorial spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said. Under the order, residents still can transport guns to some private locations, such as a gun range or gun store, provided the firearm has a trigger lock or some other container or mechanism making it impossible to discharge.
Lujan Grisham acknowledged not all law enforcement officials were on board with her decision.
"I welcome the debate and fight about how to make New Mexicans safer," she said at a news conference, flanked by law enforcement officials.
John Allen said in a statement late Friday that he has reservations about the order but is ready to cooperate to tackle gun violence.
“While I understand and appreciate the urgency, the temporary ban challenges the foundation of our constitution, which I swore an oath to uphold,” Allen said. “I am wary of placing my deputies in positions that could lead to civil liability conflicts, as well as the potential risks posed by prohibiting law-abiding citizens from their constitutional right to self-defense.”
Enforcing the governor's order also could put Albuquerque police in a difficult position with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding a police reform settlement, said police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
“All of those are unsettled questions,” he said late Friday.
Lujan Grisham referenced several recent shootings in Albuquerque in issuing the order. Among them was a suspected road rage shooting Wednesday outside a minor league baseball stadium that killed 11-year-old Froyland Villegas and critically wounded a woman as their vehicle was peppered with bullets while people left the game.
Last month, 5-year-old Galilea Samaniego was fatally shot while asleep in a motor home. Four teens entered the mobile home community in two stolen vehicles early on Aug. 13 and opened fire on the trailer, according to police. The girl was struck in the head and later died at a hospital.
The governor also cited an August shooting death in Taos County of 13-year-old Amber Archuleta. A 14-year-old boy shot and killed the girl with his father’s gun while they were at his home, authorities said.
“When New Mexicans are afraid to be in crowds, to take their kids to school, to leave a baseball game — when their very right to exist is threatened by the prospect of violence at every turn — something is very wrong,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
The top-ranked Republican in the state Senate swiftly denounced the governor's actions Friday to restrict guns as a way to stem violent crime.
“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,” Sen. Greg Baca of Belen said.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, applauded the governor’s order as a courageous and necessary step to curbing gun violence, even if the measure's legal fate is uncertain.
“If it saves one life, then it’s worth doing,” Viscoli said.
Since 2019, Lujan Grisham has signed a raft of legislation restricting access to guns, including a 2020 “red flag” law allowing police or sheriff’s deputies to ask a court to temporarily remove guns from people who might hurt themselves or others, an extension of background-check requirements to nearly all private gun sales.
She also signed a ban on firearms possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.
Friday’s order directs state regulators to conduct monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide to ensure compliance with gun laws.
The state Department of Health will compile a report on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals that includes age, race, gender and ethnicity, along with the brand and caliber of firearm involved and other general circumstances.
Associated Press writers Scott Sonner and Gabe Stern in Reno, Nevada; Terry Tang in Phoenix; Rio Yamat in Las Vegas; and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this story. 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.