New Mexico governor defends approach to attempted gun restrictions, emergency order on gun violence

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Associated Press

FILE - Demonstrators carry their assault rifles to a Second Amendment rally in response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's recent public health order suspending the conceal and open carry of guns in and around Albuquerque for 30-days, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M. Restrictions on carrying guns in public that are tied to an emergency public health order are going under the legal microscope Tuesday, Oct. 3, in New Mexico, where the Democratic governor is testing the boundaries of her authority and constitutional law in response to violent crime in the states largest metro area. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday defended her decision to treat gun violence as a public health epidemic, citing statistics on recent firearms seizures, reduced reports of gunfire in the Albuquerque metro area and an uptick in jail bookings, while awaiting a crucial court ruling on a signature effort to suspend gun-carry rights in public parks and playgrounds.

The governor last week extended an emergency public health order regarding gun violence an additional 30 days into early November. A federal judge has temporarily blocked provisions that suspended the right to carry guns in public parks, playgrounds and other areas where children recreate, setting a Wednesday deadline for a ruling on whether to indefinitely block the restrictions while several court challenges are resolved.

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Lujan Grisham appeared at the news conference alongside Cabinet secretaries not only for New Mexico’s Public Safety and Corrections departments but also child welfare services, pubic health and environmental protection agencies that are under orders to respond to the ravages of gun violence and drugs.

They unveiled a new website dashboard for statistics related to gun violence in the Albuquerque area. Administration officials said some new efforts to contain gun violence and drugs wouldn’t be possible without the emergency orders — such as a mandate that expanded behavior health services from major medical insurers and emergency funding for wastewater testing for drugs at schools.

“I won’t rest until we don’t have to talk about (gun violence) as an epidemic and a public health emergency. That’s the goal — and if we turn the tide and it’s sustainable,” Lujan Grisham said.

Lujan Grisham is confronting a public backlash from critics of her public health order who describe its gun restriction provisions as an assault on constitutional rights that allow a person to carry a firearm for self defense.

On Tuesday, the governor said she has a responsibility to explore opportunities for gun-free “safe spaces" amid shifting judicial precedent.

“That’s a question that’s now moving to the courts,” Lujan Grisham said of her proposed gun restrictions. “I need to know what we can and cannot do to keep New Mexicans safe.”

The standoff is one of many in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year expanding gun rights, as leaders in politically liberal-leaning states explore new avenues for restrictions.

The governor’s emergency orders also include directives for monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals and voluntary gun-buyback programs.

Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said her agency is taking custody of 48 high-maintenance inmates from Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center to free up staff to help the area contend with violent crime.

Environment Department Secretary James Kenney said the planned wastewater testing program aims to identify which opioids, including fentanyl, are present at public schools, with 250 testing points statewide, to inform the state's response.

The governor has scaled back initial gun restrictions in the emergency public health order that broadly suspended the right to carry guns in most public places, which the sheriff and Albuquerque’s police chief had refused to enforce.

The latest health order also avoids interference with access to a municipal shooting range in Albuquerque located within a public park. Gun restrictions would be tied to a statistical threshold for violent crime that applied only to Albuquerque and the surrounding area.

State police would have authority under the governor’s order to assess civil penalties and fines of up to $5,000 for infractions.