NICOLE RUSSELL: The New Mexico governor's unconstitutional gun ban has imploded because some Democrats actually learned from COVID

When former President Donald Trump shut down the economy --- including schools, businesses, and houses of worship --- few state or federal officials did differently. In a couple months, Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott opened Florida and Texas, respectively. Most other states remained closed and millions of citizens’ constitutional rights were halted or held in limbo for over a year.

Not only is New Mexico’s gun ban a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights and a poor way to fight drug use and gun crimes, the entire fiasco shows that post-pandemic, some local officials are willing to uphold the Constitution even when their own governor is not.

On Friday, Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an emergency order to suspend the right of New Mexico citizens to carry firearms in most public places around Albuquerque. The 30-day public health order is to apply to open and concealed carry in most public places, tied to violent crime rates in Albuquerque. According to the governor’s office, violators could face civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000. Grisham issued the ban as a  public health order arguing that “gun violence and drug use constitute conditions of public health importance.”

An arbitrary but de jure gun ban (at least in the eyes of Gov. Grisham) is not only an impractical way to stop gun crime --- criminals committed to gun crime won’t abide by such a ban --- but it’s highly unconstitutional. The Second Amendment “shall not be infringed.”

But there’s good news: The Attorney General publicly opposed the ban, the sheriff vowed not to enforce it, and several other officials have come out against the ban too.

In a letter Tuesday, Attorney General Raúl Torrez notified Grisham of his position on her ban. “Simply put, I do not believe that the Emergency Order will have any meaningful impact on public safety but, more importantly, I do not believe it passes constitutional muster,” he wrote.

Likewise, the sheriff who oversees the county where Albuquerque is located, Bernalillo, vowed he would not enforce the ban either. The county’s lead prosecutor, the Albuquerque mayor, and city’s police chief all joined him.

“It’s unconstitutional, so there’s no way we can enforce that order,” Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said during a news conference. “This ban does nothing to curb gun violence.”

New Mexico politicians have also spoken out. “My constituents have reached out to me in droves, emailing and texting me that this is insane, this is horrifying, this is unconstitutional,” said Republican state Rep. John Block of Alamogordo, representing a conservative stronghold in southern New Mexico.

Given what this country went through during the pandemic, and the way citizens’ rights were consistently violated, it’s good to see law enforcement officials and politicians stand firm against such an unconstitutional act.

During the pandemic, even the Supreme Court differed on how to handle constitutional rights during a time of crisis. The more conservative justices tended to think pandemic-related closures of houses of worship were egregious, while the more liberal members thought the crisis allowed for such measures since it was so severe.

The night before Thanksgiving, in 2020, the Supreme Court granted an injunction, 5-4, against New York State’s restriction on religious services,which had all kinds of various restrictions in place about how many people could worship and where. “But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the per curiam opinion read.

More recently, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch slammed America’s pandemic response in a statement about the expiration of Title 42 back in May. “Since March 2020, we may have experienced the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country. Executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale,” Gorsuch wrote. “Executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale. Governors and local leaders imposed lockdown orders forcing people to remain in their homes. They shuttered businesses and schools, public and private.” He’s spot on, of course.

It’s easy to see now, post-pandemic, that our First Amendment rights should have been maintained intact; it was a bit harder for officials to see and stand against while it was happening. Kudos to the members of local law enforcement and politicians in New Mexico who have found the courage to call out their governor on her unconstitutional gun ban right in the thick of it. If we as Americans found our courage in the pandemic and realized again the importance of keeping our rights intact, we have learned a most valuable lesson.
 

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