New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D.) isn’t the first elected official to try and score partisan points by pushing for a constitutionally dubious gun policy. But she is quickly becoming one of the first in recent memory to see that effort backfire.
Late last Friday, Lujan Grisham issued an “emergency order” declaring that it would be illegal to carry a gun openly or concealed in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County for 30 days, even for those with valid carry permits. Just five days later, a federal judge put a stop to the ban with a temporary restraining order.
Lujan Grisham’s failed carry ban is the latest in a long line of state and local politicians attempting to push the envelope of gun policy. The quintessential example is the city of Philadelphia, where policymakers routinely try to pass gun control laws despite being keenly aware of Pennsylvania’s preemption law. Though the city nearly always loses in court, it continues this course because, in a deep blue city like Philadelphia, there is usually no political price to be paid for passing illegal gun laws—only political upside.
The same calculus can be seen in the Bruen-response bills passed in states like New York and New Jersey that have, in effect, created carry regimes more restrictive than those the Supreme Court struck down when it recognized a constitutional right to carry a firearm. Though New York and New Jersey have already received several rulings against broad swaths of their respective new laws, California lawmakers are preparing to adopt essentially the same policy because in the Golden State, as along the Acela corridor, gun restrictions are praised more than they are condemned.
But what happened in New Mexico, despite its status as a safe-blue state, has taken a dramatically different course. Instead of praise, Governor Lujan Grisham has almost unanimously received scorn.
Predictably, Grisham’s order was met with fiery condemnation from gun-rights advocates who quickly filed a bevy of lawsuits seeking to have it struck down.
“It is extremely clear that Grisham knows she is operating outside of Constitutional bounds, especially after last summer’s Bruen ruling which specifically protected individuals’ rights to carry firearms outside the home,” the National Association for Gun Rights, one of the groups suing the Governor, said in a statement.
But while the response from gun rights groups was pronounced, they weren’t alone in denouncing the Governor’s order. Indeed, the criticism she is currently facing from her own political allies and other gun-control advocates shows just how much her plan has gone over like a lead balloon.
New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez (D.), who was endorsed by gun-control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, sent a letter to the Governor Tuesday informing her that he would not defend the gun ban order in court because he believes it’s unconstitutional.
“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,” his letter reads. “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.”
Bernalillo County District Attorney and former chair of the state’s Democratic Party Sam Bregman, whom Grisham appointed, has also refused to enforce the order and questioned its legality.
“As an officer of the court, I cannot and will not enforce something that is clearly unconstitutional,” Bregman told the Associated Press.
The county’s sheriff John Allen (D.) was even more forceful during a press conference on Monday.
“It’s unconstitutional, so there’s no way we can enforce that order,” Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen (D.) said. “This ban does nothing to curb gun violence.”
“We don’t agree on this at all,” Allen added. “This is unconstitutional, and I uphold my oath [to the Constitution] seriously.”
That last comment seemed to be a direct shot at the Governor, who said, “No constitutional right, in my view, including my oath, is intended to be absolute,” during her press conference announcing the ban.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D.-N.M.) felt compelled to issue a statement on the order urging the Governor to refocus her attention on other methods of reducing gun violence.
“We need to focus on solutions that are constitutional and enforceable,” he said. “That’s what will save lives.”
Heinrich was not the only elected Democrat from the state to call out the Governor over the order. Lawmakers from the state legislature, many who had previously voted in favor of gun-control bills, also condemned the carry ban.
“Having passed key gun safety laws working with her administration, I call on the Governor to rescind her order outlawing arms,” State Senator Joe Cervantes (D.) said on Twitter. “An unconstitutional approach undermines the important collaboration gun issues deserve, and the important role of a Governor to lead genuine reforms.”
Cervantes was joined by a group of six House Democrats who sent a letter calling on the Governor to rescind her order.
“We concur with law enforcement leaders that these executive orders violate law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights and would require law enforcement officers to infringe upon these rights, which could expose officers, police agencies, and communities to civil litigation,” the letter shared on Twitter by State Representative Joseph Sanchez (D.) reads. “We agree that the Governor does not have the authority to disregard both the New Mexico Constitution and the U.S. Constitution and to create law without action from the New Mexico Legislature.”
The New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chimed in with concern over the ban, though its critiques focused solely on the criminal justice implications of the move rather than concerns over the Second Amendment.
“The ACLU of New Mexico is heartbroken over the recent death of a child and shares the governor’s concern for the well-being of our community. However, we are equally concerned that her solution to the complicated problems of substance abuse, addiction, and gun violence is to pour more resources into law enforcement,” Lalita Moskowitz, the group’s litigation manager, said in a press release. “Historically, this kind of approach leads to the over policing of our communities, racial profiling, and increased misery in the lives of already marginalized people.”
Prior to the court order blocking her unilateral ban, the Governor was defiant in the face of the widespread criticism she faced. In response to a public demonstration in an Albuquerque park against the ban over the weekend, which featured many protestors openly carrying firearms in violation of the ban, the Governor’s office hinted that the demonstrators could be cited.
“The order is being enforced, and citations will be forthcoming from the State Police,” Caroline Sweeney, a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman, told The Paper. “To ensure officer safety, we will not be providing additional details at this time.”
But with prominent Democratic lawmakers, gun-control activists, major progressive interest groups, and now the federal courts continuing to line up against her, it could become much harder for the Governor to avoid backing off of her stance. Ultimately, whether or not she suffers any measurable electoral consequences will be the true test of how much the gun-carry ban backfired. But the swift condemnation she has already received from all sides is evidence of a new political limit for gun control.