Twenty years ago, two key pieces of legislation were enacted in New Mexico. First was the Concealed Handgun Carry Act, which was introduced in the Senate by a Democrat, and passed both chambers with a strong majority. Second was the Public Health Emergency Response Act, also introduced by a Democrat, and which passed with only two dissenting votes.
Last week, Governor Lujan Grisham used the latter to overturn the former without ever convening the Legislature. On Sept. 8, the governor issued an executive order declaring that gun violence has created a public health emergency. Effective immediately, anyone carrying a firearm in public in Bernalillo County shall be subject to a civil penalty punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
The Public Health Emergency Response Act, followed two years later by the Emergency Powers Code, came in the wake of 9/11 and fears of domestic terrorism, particularly biological attack. The law allows the governor to declare a state of emergency for 30 days.
I’m a bit confused what law is being invoked here. Prohibiting the carrying of firearms by citizens in public by the governor is not explicitly authorized by Public Health Emergency Response Act but is authorized by the Riot Control Act. However, the Riot Control Act can only be instituted for a three-day period.
Lujan Grisham invoked the Public Health Emergency Response Act previously during the pandemic and drew widespread criticism for extending the 30-day period over and over without convening or consulting the Legislature. Executive overreach was apparent then. It is more so now.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the governor’s intent. In a six-week period this summer, three children have been killed by gunfire in Albuquerque. As noted in the executive order, the rate of gun deaths in the state has increased 43% in the period from 2009 to 2018. Albuquerque has the 12th highest homicide rate in the nation compared with all major metro areas. This is unacceptable.
I appreciate the intent. I do not appreciate the action. I don’t really understand the action.
City and county officials, most of whom are in the same political party as the governor, have all said they will not enforce the executive order. All of them: the Mayor of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque police chief, and the Bernalillo County Sheriff and District Attorney. The Attorney General, also a Democrat, has announced he will not defend the governor in current or future lawsuits over the order.
Like many New Mexicans, I consider myself to be a lawful firearm owner. I am not a 2nd Amendment activist; to the contrary, I have spent significant column space holding forth that the GOP should drop its love affair with the gun lobby. I think most legal gun owners in the state find themselves in the same category: law-abiding, non-politicized individuals who choose to own a weapon.
We all knew there would be lawsuits from gun activists as soon as we heard the executive order. I think what is surprising to the non-activist gun owners is how targeted we feel. Some of us will become radicalized by the executive order. And it is patently obvious that the felons who are shooting kids are not going to be deterred by a $5,000 civil penalty if they aren’t deterred by a murder charge.
No cooperation from local officials – even in the same party. The AG says, “you’re on your own.” More resistance to personal disarmament. And the violent criminals are completely unfazed.
This is what government by executive order gets you – even with the noblest of intentions. Trying to cram gun reform into a public health emergency isn’t good policy. Changing, much less suspending, existing laws calls for legislative involvement. Isn’t this issue grave enough to call for a special session?
I don’t have the answers to stem the violence plaguing our state, but they will begin with longer term solutions with more parties at the table. The precedent set by nearly three years of governor-directed states of emergency with no legislative consultation is disturbing and cautionary. New Mexico must address violent crime, but not via fiat from the fourth floor of the Roundhouse.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appeared regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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