It’s not often the ACLU of New Mexico and the Republican Party of New Mexico agree on something, albeit for different reasons. It’s also not often that law enforcement leaders openly defy a governor.
But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has accomplished both, abusing the emergency public health powers granted to the governor’s administration by state lawmakers in the wake of 9/11. And it’s not going over so well, even among members of her own political party.
Secretary Patrick M. Allen, whom the governor appointed cabinet secretary of the Department of Health in January, issued an executive order Friday banning citizens from carrying firearms on any state property for 30 days, openly or concealed. Further, under the shocking and unprecedented fiat that even targets law-abiding citizens who have gone through the arduous process of obtaining a concealed carry permit, the core constitutional right to carry a firearm is suspended at public spaces in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque for 30 days, with exceptions for police and licensed security guards.
Indeed, the Duke City is dangerous. There were a record 120 homicides in Albuquerque last year, with 76 homicide victims this year as of Sept. 8. Random violent crime has gripped the city again after 11-year-old Froylan Villegas was killed and his aunt was critically injured when their vehicle was sprayed with 17 bullets in a road-rage shooting Sept. 7 as the family left an Isotopes baseball game.
That tragedy, the fifth road-rage homicide in Albuquerque this year, followed the drive-by shooting of 5-year-old Galilea Samaniego on Aug. 13, who was shot and killed while sleeping in a motor home in Southwest Albuquerque. Five teenagers have been charged in the case, which police say was a result of an ongoing feud between groups of teenagers.
The unilateral decree from the governor’s administration has some good elements. It includes sending New Mexico State Police officers to fight crime and assist with warrant arrests in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, allowing police to book juveniles into jail without social services’ permission, and monthly inspections of licensed gun dealers to ensure compliance with sales and storage laws.
But the gun ban overshadows everything else in the emergency public health order. Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen has vowed not to enforce it, calling it unconstitutional.
“This ban does nothing to curb gun violence,” Allen said at a news conference Monday.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, who was appointed DA by Lujan Grisham in January, also said he won’t enforce it. Neither will Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller nor APD Police Chief Harold Medina.
The governor, a 1987 law school graduate of the University of New Mexico, says she doesn’t need a lecture on constitutionality from Sheriff Allen. Maybe she needs one from the judiciary, like the 5-0 rebuke the New Mexico Supreme Court gave her in November 2021 after she tried to spend more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid without input from the Legislature.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez on Tuesday released a blistering letter he sent to the governor stating his office will not defend the growing number of lawsuits challenging the gun ban.
“Though I recognize my statutory obligation as New Mexico’s chief legal officer to defend state officials when they are sued in their official capacity, my duty to uphold and defend the constitutional rights of every citizen takes precedence,” Torrez wrote. “Simply put, I do not believe that the Emergency Order will have any meaningful impact on public safety but, more importantly, I do not believe it passes constitutional muster.”
That’s from the state’s top cop, who also offered the governor some advice on good government.
“However, I encourage you to engage in a more thoughtful and deliberative process with members of the New Mexico Legislature rather than taking unilateral action that infringes on the constitutional rights of law-biding citizens while having little if any discernible impact on the underlying dynamics driving gun violence in our community,” Torrez continued in a four-page letter that cited relevant court cases and the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions.
Torrez should know. He was the Bernalillo County DA before being elected AG last year. He’s also one of the top legal minds in the state.
Lujan Grisham has dug herself into a legal and political hole from which she cannot emerge successfully. Unfortunately, as we’ve said before, her preference to go it alone and dictate policy unilaterally has been a serious flaw in her administration.
The governor desperately needs an off-ramp. She should announce she won’t renew the 30-day emergency public health order, and let it fade into the trash heap of history where it belongs.