By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN and CHRISTOPHER L. KELLER Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A U.S. district judge is considering multiple requests to put on hold an order by New Mexico’s Democratic governor that suspends the right to carry firearms in the state’s largest metropolitan area, as criticism mounts and political divides widen.
A hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon in Albuquerque. Gun rights groups and civil rights advocates are asking U.S. Judge David Urias to strike down Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order, alleging that it infringes on civil rights afforded by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The order issued last Friday prompted a flurry of lawsuits, protests and calls for the second-term governor to step down. Top law enforcement officials in Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo have vowed not to enforce the order, and the Democratic state attorney general has said he will not defend it and has urged the governor to change course.
Lujan Grisham has remained defiant despite protests that have drawn crowds to public squares in Albuquerque over recent days.
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.
The governor cited recent shootings around the state that left children dead, saying something needed to be done. Still, she acknowledged that criminals would ignore the order.
At a news conference Tuesday, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce accused Lujan Grisham of “totalitarian” behavior and called her order unconstitutional.
“We need to knock this thing down and send her packing,” he said.
Even top Democrats — including New Mexico Attorney General Raúl 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 affects 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.”
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.