Sun, 24 Sep 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A federal judge has blocked part of a public health order that suspended the right to carry guns in public across New Mexico's largest metro area, as criticism mounted over the actions taken by the governor and political divides widened.

The ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge David Urias marks a setback for Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she responds to several recent shootings that took the lives of children, including an 11-year-old boy as he left a minor league baseball game in Albuquerque.

Lujan Grisham imposed an emergency public health order Friday that suspended the right to open or concealed carry of guns in public places based on a statistical threshold for violent crime that applied only to Albuquerque and the surrounding area. The governor cited recent shootings around the state that left children dead, saying something needed to be done.

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U.S. District Judge Urias agreed Wednesday with plaintiffs in several lawsuits who said the order violates constitutional rights and he granted a temporary restraining order to block the governor's suspension of gun rights. It's in place until an Oct. 3 court hearing.

Speaking of Lujan Grisham's actions, Urias said "I don't blame her for wanting to take action in the face of terrible acts." But he said he was faced with a much more narrow question regarding the rights afforded to citizens.

State police had authority under the order to assess civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000. The local sheriff and Albuquerque's police chief had refused to enforce the firearms ban.

The rest of the public health order, including directives for monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals and wastewater testing for illicit substances, remains intact.

Advocates for gun rights filed a barrage of legal challenges to the order in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque alleging infringement of civil rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Republicans in the legislative majority have called for impeachment proceedings against the governor.

Lujan Grisham has remained defiant despite protests that have drawn crowds to public squares in Albuquerque over recent days. The governor is testing the boundaries of her executive authority again after using public health orders for aggressive lockdowns during the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, she acknowledged that criminals would likely ignore the temporary order given Friday.

Mothers and military veterans have been among those demonstrating, many with holstered handguns on their hips and rifles slung over their shoulder. They have voiced concerns about the ability to protect themselves from violent crime in a city that has been scarred by drive-by shootings and deadly road rage incidents.

Even top Democrats - including New Mexico Attorney General Ral Torrez - have suggested that the governor's time would have been better spent developing comprehensive legislation to tackle the issue.

New Mexico is an open carry state, so the governor's order suspending the open and concealed carry of firearms affected anyone in Bernalillo County who can legally own a gun, with some exceptions. Just over 14,500 people in Bernalillo County had an active concealed carry license, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety for the 2023 fiscal year.

Statewide, including Bernalillo County, the 2023 fiscal year data showed just over 45,000 active concealed carry licenses.

State police confirmed late Tuesday that no one has been cited for violating the governor's order.

The New Mexico Chiefs of Police Association said every law enforcement officer in the state shares Lujan Grisham's concerns about gun violence, but the order was the wrong way to go. The association will join others in calling for a special legislative session to tackle gun violence, said the group's head, Farmington Police Chief Steven Hebbe.

"The knee-jerk reaction to curtail the rights of every citizen rather than focusing on lawbreakers who plague our communities can't be justified," Hebbe said.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Harold Medina on Tuesday outlined what the city has been doing to address crime, saying law enforcement and judicial officials have been meeting since 2021 to develop legislative priorities and other efforts to fix what they referred to as a "broken criminal justice system."

The officials said many of the proposals have been watered down to the point of being ineffective and funding for vital programs and personnel has been cut.

"Albuquerque families can't afford political debates that distract us from fighting violent crime," Keller said. "This is a powerful moment to listen to police and behavioral health professionals to create the change we need in a special session."

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By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press

Associated Press writers Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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