Judge grants temporary restraining order against gov.'s public gun ban

Sep. 13—A federal judge issued a ruling Wednesday that temporarily blocks the state from enforcing portions of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's order suspending the right to carry firearms in public in and around Albuquerque to help combat gun violence.

U.S. District Judge David Urias of Albuquerque approved the temporary restraining order through Oct. 3, effectively siding with attorneys who have filed a flurry of lawsuits since Friday, when the governor issued the public health order.

Urias issued the ruling in a packed courtroom at the U.S. District Courthouse in Albuquerque after hearing from attorneys from as far away as Arizona and Connecticut who challenged Lujan Grisham's order.

"We have a room full of lawyers today," Urias said moments after he entered the courtroom Wednesday.

The governor, meanwhile, was represented by a single attorney, who sat alone at her own table and asked the judge to keep the 30-day order in effect.

Shortly after Urias handed down the ruling, Lujan Grisham issued a statement defending her actions.

"As governor, I see the pain of families who lost their loved ones to gun violence every single day, and I will never stop fighting to prevent other families from enduring these tragedies," Lujan Grisham said in the written statement.

"Over the past four days, I've seen more attention on resolving the crisis of gun violence than I have in the past four years," she said.

Attorneys representing plaintiffs in the lawsuits argued that the public health order would do little to stop criminal use of guns while impinging on the Second Amendment rights of citizens to bear firearms.

"The gun violence in this instance is committed by criminals and not by law-abiding citizens," said Marc Lowry, an Albuquerque attorney.

"It is laudable that she is trying to do something about gun violence," Lowry said. He called "abhorrent" the level of gun violence in Albuquerque. "But it has to be done in a reasonable manner that is not butting up (against) constitutional rights."

Holly Agajanian, the governor's general counsel, said law enforcement officers who confront someone carrying a firearm have "no way to discern who the good guy is and who the bad guy is." The public health order doesn't prevent anyone from buying a gun, she said.

"They are not restricted from having guns altogether," Agajanian told the judge, arguing the 30-day gun ban should remain in effect. "Let's give it 30 days and see what happens."

Lujan Grisham issued the public health order on Friday in response to recent shootings, including the death last week of an 11-year-old boy outside Isotopes Park and the shooting death of a 5-year-old girl who was asleep in a mobile home. The governor also cited the shooting death in August of a 13-year-old girl in Taos County.

The 30-day firearm suspension applied to most public places, including city sidewalks and urban recreational parks.

Some attorneys opposed to the ban focused on Lujan Grisham's use of a public health order to impose restrictions on gun ownership, which they say expands on earlier restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If the government expands its powers in an emergency, it will declare emergencies more often," said Anthony Napolitano, a Phoenix attorney representing Gun Owners of America, which filed suit Saturday against Lujan Grisham and other state officials.

Cameron Atkinson, a Harwinton, Connecticut, attorney who represents We the Patriots USA Inc., called Lujan Grisham's use of a public health order "a seminal moment in the American experiment."

"We're rapidly heading toward a public health state," Atkinson said shortly before the hearing.

Urias' ruling, effective Wednesday, paused enforcement of two sections of the public health order:

The first section barred possession of a firearm, "either openly or concealed," throughout Bernalillo County, except on private property. If transported, the order required the owner to keep the firearm "in a locked container or locked with a firearm safety device," such as a trigger lock.

The temporary restraining order also blocked enforcement of a section of the order that barred possession of a firearm "on state property, public schools, and public parks" throughout the state.

The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until an Oct. 3 hearing, when Urias will consider motions seeking a preliminary injunction that could further block enforcement of the public health order.

Urias' ruling left in place other portions of the order, including one that requires the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department to conduct monthly inspections of licensed firearms dealers in the state.