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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

New Mexico governor, AG, both Democrats, clash over her monthlong ban on carrying guns in Albuquerque

Albuquerque —Some demonstrators defiantly wore holstered handguns on their hips or carried rifles in a Tuesday rally by gun-rights advocates, protesting New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’ssurprise order to suspend the right to carry firearms after two children were recently killed in separate shootings.

The rally unfolded on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza shortly before New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced he cannot defend the governor’s public health order on firearms, furthering a divide between the state’s top-ranked elected Democrats.

In his letter to Lujan Grisham, Torrez said that although he agrees a debate is needed on the impact of gun violence, it cannot be rebranded a public health emergency to justify a blanket 30-day prohibition against carrying firearms in and around Albuquerque. He urged the governor to consider whether her time would be better spent on developing comprehensive legislation.

“While I understand that frustration may have led you to undertake a unilateral approach to addressing the heart-wrenching challenge of gun violence in our community, I urge you to reconsider this course of action,” said Torrez.

Lujan Grisham responded by saying she’s “looking for state leaders to step up and take bold steps to make New Mexicans safer from the scourge of gun violence,” her spokesperson Caroline Sweeney wrote in an email. “We invite the Attorney General to turn his attention to that effort.”

Many of the dozens of people gathered in Albuquerque on Tuesday wore T-shirts in support of the right to bear arms, while others waved American flags and held signs reading “Do Not Comply.” They ranged from military veterans to mothers.

Alicia Otero, whose son was killed in 2021, held a poster that included a photo of 24-year-old Elias Otero and the words “I blame the shooter! Not the gun!”

“I’m here because I’m against gun violence and I’ve been crying to our governor to make changes and to hold the offenders accountable and now that she made this new order, it’s unfair to us because we’re scared,” she said. “After things like this happened, we need to protect ourselves and now she’s taking that away from us.”

Law-abiding citizens are being punished by the order that won’t curb crimes like the one her family suffered, Alicia Otero said.

Lujan Grisham said Friday she was compelled to suspend the open and concealed carry of guns because of recent killings. Those include the deaths of an 11-year-old outside a minor league baseball stadium in Albuquerque and a 13-year-old in Taos County.

The Catholic Church was among the few joining longtime gun-control advocates in support of the order.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, called it “disheartening” that more people aren’t backing the governor’s move.

“Hearing gunshots outside your home in Albuquerque is kind of the norm now,” said Viscoli. “There has been a spike in gun violence in New Mexico and we’re at a breaking point.”

Lujan Grisham rebuffed calls to rescind the order from Republican lawmakers who also threatened impeachment proceedings.

But even some influential Democrats and civil rights leaders typically aligned with the governor’s progressive political agenda warned that her well-intended move could do more harm than good to overall efforts to ease gun violence.

Several lawsuits have been filed. A U.S. District Court judge in Albuquerque is scheduled to hear motions for a temporary restraining order Wednesday afternoon.

In his letter to Lujan-Grisham, Torrez said he won’t defend her against four lawsuits, CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV reports.

The station quotes him as saying in the letter that, “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.”

New Mexico is an open carry state, so the governor’s order affects anyone in Bernalillo County who can legally own a gun, with some exceptions. Just over 14,500 people in Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county and home to Albuquerque, had an active license, according to the fiscal year 2023 data.

At an afternoon news conference, 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.

Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen and Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said the order violates constitutional rights and they won’t enforce it.

Allen is among top law enforcement officials and prosecutors who said they weren’t consulted before Lujan Grisham announced the order that even she admits will be ignored by criminals.

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.

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