The New Mexico government on Friday enacted a public health order prohibiting people from possessing firearms, but could not say what penalties people will face for violating the new directive.
New Mexico Health Secretary Patrick Allen signed a public health emergency order prohibiting anyone from possessing a firearm, either openly or concealed.
The order applies only within cities or counties that have an average of 1,000 or more violent crimes per 100,000 residents per year since 2021 and that have more than 90 firearm-related emergency room visits per 100,000 residents from July 2022 to June 2023.
As of Friday, that meant the order only applied to the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, Lujan Grisham said.
The order also applies to state property, public schools and public parks.
However, the order does not give authorities any power to imprison people. It only specifies that people who violate it “may be subject to civil administrative penalties.” This could include the loss of a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but the order doesn’t specifically mention concealed carry permits.
Asked how the order will be enforced and what the penalty will be for violating it, Lujan Grisham told reporters on Friday afternoon “we’re likely dealing with misdemeanors,” but she was not specific.
“Those are very complicated questions, and we are working with our Department of Public Safety, and our own attorneys and the (District Attorneys),” she said.
She said she doesn’t think the Albuquerque Police Department could enforce the order, but the New Mexico State Police could do so because they’re required to carry out executive orders.
“The purpose is to try to create a cooling off period while we figure out how we can better address public safety and gun violence,” Lujan Grisham said.
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It remains unclear how the violent crime and emergency room visit thresholds were determined, whether any other jurisdictions in New Mexico could cross them and how quickly they would be subject to the order if that happens.
The order also directs the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to send state police officers to Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, and to work with local prosecutors to round up people with pending arrest warrants.
Exceptions to the order
The public health order does not apply to any police or licensed security officers.
It also doesn’t apply to private property, licensed gun dealers, gunsmiths, firing ranges, or sport shooting competitions.
Anyone traveling to or from any of the above locations can possess a firearm, so long as they keep the gun in a locked container or make it inoperable with a trigger lock or some other safety device.
Every gun owner can get a free trigger lock by calling 505-984-3085 or emailing [email protected].
“Responsible gun owners are certainly not our problem — have never been our problem,” Lujan Grisham said.
The order directs the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department to inspect gun dealers every month “to ensure compliance with all sales and storage laws.”
The order also directs the state health and environmental departments to test sewer systems at all public schools for drugs, specifically fentanyl.
It also directs the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department to immediately suspend the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative and to “evaluate juvenile probation protocols.”
What happens next?
Like other public health orders, it will expire after 30 days on Oct. 8, when state officials will decide to either renew it for another month or let it expire.
The order directs the New Mexico Department of Health to compile a report by Sept. 28 on gunshot victims showing up to hospitals in the state.
Lujan Grisham said she anticipates a legal challenge to the order.
“And I can’t tell you that we (will) win it, given all of the different challenges to gun violence laws and restrictions on individual firearm access and control,” Lujan Grisham said. “The point here is that if everyone did it — and it wasn’t legally challenged — you would have fewer risks on the street.”
As of Friday evening, it was not immediately clear who would mount such a challenge, and nothing appeared in a search of online court records.
Lujan Grisham brought up instances where gun violence killed people in public settings this year to argue her reasons for the new order.
“I think it’s time we have a really strong debate about all the other constitutional rights,” Lujan Grisham said. “No one right now in New Mexico — and particularly in Albuquerque — is safe in a movie theater, at a park, at a school, at a grocery store, at an Isotopes game, at the University … getting your prescriptions, at work.”
Executive Order 2023-132
090823 PHO (guns and drug abuse)