Sheriff in New Mexico’s most populous county rejects governor’s gun ban, calling it unconstitutional
Sep 11, 2023, 11:05 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The sheriff in New Mexico’s largest metro area vowed Monday not to enforce an emergency order by the governor to temporarily suspend the right to carry firearms in public in and around the city of Albuquerque.
“It’s unconstitutional, so there’s no way we can enforce that order,” Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said during a news conference. “This ban does nothing to curb gun violence.”
Reaction has been swift after Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the order Friday, telling reporters that she expected legal challenges and that state police would handle enforcement.
“I welcome the debate and fight about how to make New Mexicans safer,” she said, while also acknowledging that criminals surely would ignore her order.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, a Democratic party leader who was appointed by Lujan Grisham, joined Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina saying they too would not enforce it. A gun rights group filed a federal lawsuit within 24 hours seeking an immediate court order to block the order from taking effect.
Republican state lawmakers also have proposed initiating impeachment proceedings against the governor, a move that would require buy-in from the Democrats who control the state Legislature.
“My constituents have reached out to me in droves, emailing and texting me that this is insane, this is horrifying, this is unconstitutional,” said Republican state Rep. John Block of Alamogordo, who represents a conservative stronghold in southern New Mexico.
He said an article of impeachment is being drafted by legal counsel. Lujan Grisham, a former congresswoman, began a second term in January and can’t run again immediately for a third consecutive term.
The ACLU voiced its own objections to the governor’s response to gun violence, expressing fear that it could lead to overzealous policing and infringe on privacy.
“This kind of approach leads to the over-policing of our communities, racial profiling, and increased misery in the lives of already marginalized people,” said Lalita Moskowitz, litigation manager for the ACLU of New Mexico. “The governor should be following evidence-based solutions such as meaningful diversion and violence intervention programs and addressing the root causes of violence.”
The top Republican in the New Mexico Senate, Greg Baca of Belen, denounced the order as an infringement on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens and Dan Lewis, who serves on the nonpartisan Albuquerque City Council, called it unconstitutional.
The head of the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, Randy Kozuch, issued a statement on Sunday calling the order a “shocking” act of “administrative fiat” that undermined “the fundamental rights of law-abiding New Mexicans.” Gun-toting protesters held a peaceful rally in Albuquerque’s Old Town area.
Allen on Monday alluded again to concerns he expressed in a statement late Friday about putting deputies at risk if they sought to arrest people with guns.
“I do not want to have political violence towards my deputies or here in Bernalillo County,” he said. “I have enough violence here.”
Lujan Grisham said she was compelled to issue her order following recent shootings including the death of an 11-year-old boy outside a minor league baseball stadium last week, the gunfire death of a 5-year-old girl who was asleep in a motor home and an August shooting death in Taos County of a 13-year-old girl.
The firearms suspension was issued as an emergency public health order, reminiscent of the much protested public health orders she continually renewed throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said the gun ban would apply for 30 days to open and concealed carry in most public places and tied it to a threshold for violent crime rates currently only met in metropolitan Albuquerque. Police and licensed security guards are exempt.
Violators could face civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000, gubernatorial spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said. Under the order, residents still could transport guns to some private locations, such as a gun range or gun store, provided the firearm has a trigger lock, a container or mechanism making it impossible to discharge.
Allen said the governor, who was meeting with top law enforcement officials on Friday, sprung on them news of her plan just moments before her news conference. He said he was both shocked and irritated, after law enforcement officials had warned the governor not to go through with it.
“I have to turn my irritation and anger into solutions,” the sheriff said, indicating that he would, among other things, push state lawmakers to call for a special session to address the violence in Albuquerque.
____ Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Nev., and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.