Why the New Mexico governor's gun ban backfired

Critics say the Constitution isn't the only reason to oppose a 30-day gun ban in the name of public health

michelle lujan grisham
Liberals and conservatives alike objected to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's emergency public health order suspending some gun rights.
(Image credit: Toya Sarno Jordan / Getty Images)

A judge this week blocked New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's (D) emergency public health order suspending the right of citizens in the Albuquerque area from carrying guns on public property, openly or concealed. Lujan Grisham had just announced her 30-day gun ban on Friday, saying it would serve as a "cooling-off period" in which state leaders could discuss how to address New Mexico's high gun violence rates after several children died in recent shootings in Albuquerque and other parts of the state. Gun control campaigners had praised Lujan Grisham's "courage," Reuters reported.

The backlash was quick, as everyone — including Lujan Grisham — expected. Four gun rights groups immediately filed lawsuits challenging Lujan Grisham's "public health emergency" order, Reason noted. U.S. District Court Judge David Urias agreed, saying the policy violated a landmark 2022 Supreme Court ruling that gives Americans the right to carry guns for self defense under the Constitution's Second Amendment. And that's just one reason that liberals and conservatives alike objected to Lujan Grisham's drastic move. Here are some of the main gripes from both sides:

Nobody was willing to enforce a gun ban

The governor just made herself look "unserious" and "ineffectual," said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. New Mexicans across the political spectrum rejected Lujan Grisham's gun ban "Diktat" instantly, "by acclamation," even before the judge made it official. More than 100 pistol-packing protesters marched through Albuquerque's Old Town on Sunday. State police declined to issue any citations, and Bernalillo County's Democratic sheriff, John Allen, said there was "no way we could enforce" such an obviously unconstitutional order. Lujan wanted to show she meant business, but she came off as "unserious." Let that be a lesson to any governor "tempted to violate the Constitution to make a political point."

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This targeted the wrong people

Nobody's denying something must be done about gun violence, said the Albuquerque Journal in an editorial. There were "a record 120 homicides in Albuquerque last year, with 76 homicide victims this year as of Sept. 8." The threat of "random violent crime has gripped the city" since gunfire sprayed from a vehicle killed 11-year-old Froylan Villegas and critically injured his aunt as the family left an Albuquerque Isotopes minor league baseball game in a road-rage incident the day before Lujan Grisham issued her order. But the governor is going after the wrong people. Her "shocking and unprecedented fiat" would mostly affect "law-abiding citizens who have gone through the arduous process of obtaining a concealed carry permit."

Lujan Grisham is hurting her own cause

Gun violence is indeed a public health crisis, said Mark Joseph Stern in Slate. But the law Lujan Grisham was trying to use was "plainly aimed at infectious diseases," not anything deemed dangerous. Besides, there is "no evidence" that people who legally carry firearms publicly contribute "to the explosion in gun violence that moved Lujan Grisham to act." Still, these law-abiding citizens faced a $5,000 fine if they violated this ban. No wonder everyone from gun rights groups to the American Civil Liberties Union had problems with it. "The governor has leveraged an emergency health law to suspend a right protected by state statute, the state constitution, and Supreme Court precedent." That kind of overreach is a gift to Republicans who want to convince voters that Democrats want to take away your guns.

Ignoring Supreme Court rulings is a slippery slope

When politicians on either side of the political divide start suspending rights based on their values, "the slope is slippery and treacherous," said former prosecutor Dennis Aftergut at MSNBC. "Looking ahead, how much easier would it be for Trump — should he be re-elected in 2024 — to declare a future emergency to justify freezing freedom of the press or free speech rights if he can point to a Democratic governor's having set the precedent in 2023?" Lujan Grisham knew the legal challenges were coming but wanted, and got, a discussion about gun violence. But political leaders should leave the "civil disobedience" to private citizens who sometimes have to protest to be heard. Governors shouldn't ignore what the courts say. "That's how respect for the law gets diluted." 

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.