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Pro-gun groups argue Albuquerque firearm ban is unconstitutional

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The governor of New Mexico is walking back her attempt to restrict guns. Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a public health order banning the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public places in Albuquerque and the surrounding county. A federal judge quickly issued a temporary block on the order when gun rights groups sued, and now the governor is back with a far less restrictive order. Megan Myscofski with member station KUNM reports.

MEGAN MYSCOFSKI, BYLINE: In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked New Mexico third in the nation for gun-related deaths per capita when adjusted for age. One day this week, about 25 of the patients here at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque are recovering from recent gunshot wounds.

RICHARD MISKIMINS: There's several of them that are paralyzed, and there's several of them that are missing limbs.

MYSCOFSKI: Dr. Richard Miskimins is the trauma medical director here.

MISKIMINS: It can't be lumped into one thing. It's not a single solution to a single problem. It's not gun violence. It's suicide by firearm. It's assault by firearm.

MYSCOFSKI: In recent weeks, a 5-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy were killed in separate shootings. Governor Lujan Grisham said that spurred her to act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: Particularly looking at the horrific nature of New Mexico situation as it relates to children and their families does require a crisis-level, immediate set of actions.

MYSCOFSKI: She issued an emergency public health order making it illegal to carry a gun in public, openly or concealed, in Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County. Lawsuits against it were filed within hours. Protesters gathered in public with their guns. And New Mexico's attorney general, Raul Torrez, who, like the governor, is a Democrat, refused to defend the order. A few days later, a federal judge temporarily suspended the order's firearm restrictions until the lawsuits could be heard. The governor called a press conference yesterday modifying the restrictions on carrying guns so it only applies to public parks and playgrounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUJAN GRISHAM: It's modified so that we're showing the relationship to protecting kids and families.

MYSCOFSKI: Gun rights advocates like Alan Gottlieb with the Second Amendment Foundation say it's still in conflict with the law.

ALAN GOTTLIEB: Quite frankly, it isn't going to matter because parks are covered by the Second Amendment as well for people to carry firearms.

MYSCOFSKI: That's Gottlieb's opinion. But so far, there is no unanimity among federal courts about gun restrictions in sensitive areas like parks. Legal scholars say it's one of many questions the Supreme Court may have to clarify. Governor Lujan Grisham defended the order at her press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUJAN GRISHAM: What you're seeing in New Mexico is that we're just willing to do something significant about it and not wait for Congress or anybody else to act.

MYSCOFSKI: UCLA law professor Adam Winkler writes on gun policy and says the court blocking the governor isn't surprising. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York ban on handguns in public last year, saying it violated the Second Amendment.

ADAM WINKLER: I don't know. Perhaps it was done for political reasons. Perhaps the governor wants to put on the table for genuine debate restrictions on concealed carry.

MYSCOFSKI: Albuquerque's mayor and police chief spoke out against the governor's initial public health order and then sent her a laundry list of requests, including tighter laws, more funding and a stronger system for behavioral health. Lujan Grisham says she plans to fulfill many, if not all, of them. For NPR News, I'm Megan Myscofski in Albuquerque. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Megan Myscofski