New Mexico governor amends order suspending right to carry firearms to focus on parks, playgrounds

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FILE - New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at the Arcosa Wind Towers, Aug. 9, 2023, in Belen, N.M. Grisham on Friday, Sept. 8, issued an emergency public health order that suspends the open and permitted concealed carry of firearms in Albuquerque for 30 days in the midst of a spate of gun violence. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday narrowed an order that broadly suspended the right to carry firearms in and around Albuquerque to apply only to public parks and playgrounds where children and their families gather.

The governor’s announcement came days after a federal judge blocked part of the order with criticism mounting over the Democratic governor’s action and legal challenges by gun-rights advocates.

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Gunfire and violent crime in Albuquerque have continued unabated in the week since Lujan Grisham issued the temporary public health order, she said at a news conference Friday, adding that she will continue to pursue a "framework that will pass legal muster” to rein in gun violence.

“Last night, we saw violent crime move through the city that resulted in a gun injury, two car hijackings and a kidnapping with suspects not yet in custody," said Lujan Grisham, appearing in Albuquerque alongside leading Democratic state legislators and her administration's secretary of public safety. "We have a very serious situation in our communities that requires serious, immediate results.”

She said the temporary order “is amended to be focused now (on) no open or concealed carry in public parks or playgrounds, where we know we’ve got high risk of kids and families.”

Amended restrictions on firearms do not apply to parklands overseen by the State Land Office and the state parks division of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the governor's office said. The agencies oversee dozens of recreation areas, from a nature center in Albuquerque to remote mountain and lakeside campgrounds.

U.S. District Judge David Urias said Wednesday that the governor's original order was likely to cause irreparable harm to people deprived of the right to carry a gun in public for self-defense, granting a temporary restraining order to block the suspension of gun rights until another hearing is held in early October. Further deliberations are scheduled in U.S. District for early October.

Lujan Grisham chose not to repeal gun restrictions entirely, noted Hannah Hill, executive director of the National Foundation for Gun Rights, which is challenging the order in federal court.

But the governor “is still trying to suspend public carry by executive order, and this should not be seen as a good-faith attempt to comply with the court’s restraining order,” Hill said in an email.

At least a half dozen lawsuits are challenging provisions of the governor's original order, including a petition to the New Mexico Supreme Court filed Thursday jointly by Republican state legislators, the state Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.

Republican state Rep. Randall Pettigrew of Lovington said he's still committed to that legal challenge aimed at defending gun rights, accusing the governor of a deliberate “attack on the Constitution.”

“This is them trying to figure out how far they can take a public health order,” said Pettigrew, a plaintiff to the challenge in state court. “I'm not going to stop. I can't, my constituents won't let me and I don't believe we should" end litigation.

Earlier in the week, scores of demonstrators defiantly wore holstered handguns on their hips or carried rifles during a rally by gun-rights advocates.

The second-term governor on Sept. 8 imposed the emergency public health order that suspended the right to openly carry or conceal guns in public places based on a statistical threshold for violent crime in Albuquerque and the surrounding area. She cited recent shootings around the state that left children dead, saying something needed to be done.

Republican lawmakers threatened impeachment proceedings and even some influential Democrats and civil rights leaders warned that the move could do more harm than good to overall efforts to ease gun violence.

State Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced he could not defend the 30-day prohibition against carrying firearms in and around Albuquerque, widening the divide between the state’s top-ranked elected Democrats.

Lujan Grisham said Friday that legal proceedings affirmed her calls for urgent action to stem gun violence.

“There was no disagreement in that courtroom that gun violence is a problem," she said.

The governor was accompanied at Friday's news conference by legislators including House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque, one of four local lawmakers whose homes were targeted in drive-by style shootings in December 2022 and January of this year. Martínez spoke in general terms about the Legislature's commitment to combating crime and its root causes.

The local Catholic archbishop has been among the few joining longtime gun-control advocates in support of the order.

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. Bernalillo is the state’s most populous county and home to Albuquerque.

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This version corrects the description of a judge’s order that found gun restrictions would likely cause irreparable harm. The judge did not rule the order unconstitutional.