By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Some demonstrators defiantly wore holstered handguns on their hips or carried assault rifles in a Tuesday rally by gun-rights advocates, protesting New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s surprise order to suspend the right to carry firearms after two children were recently killed in separate shootings.
The rally unfolded on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza shortly before New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced he cannot defend the governor’s public health order on firearms, exposing a divide between the state’s top-ranked elected Democrats.
In his letter to Lujan Grisham, Torrez said that although he agrees a debate is needed on the impact of gun violence, it cannot be rebranded a public health emergency to justify a blanket 30-day prohibition against carrying firearms in and around Albuquerque. He urged the governor to consider whether her time would be better spent on developing comprehensive legislation.
“While I understand that frustration may have led you to undertake a unilateral approach to addressing the heart-wrenching challenge of gun violence in our community, I urge you to reconsider this course of action,” said Torrez.
Many of the dozens of people gathered in Albuquerque Tuesday wore T-shirts in support of the right to bear arms, while others waved American flags and held signs reading: “Do Not Comply.”
Alicia Otero, whose son was killed in 2021, held a poster that included a photo of 24-year-old Elias Otero and the words “I blame the shooter! Not the gun!”
“I’m here because I’m against gun violence and I’ve been crying to our governor to make changes and to hold the offenders accountable and now that she made this new order, it’s unfair to us because we’re scared,” she said. “After things like this happened, we need to protect ourselves and now she’s taking that away from us.”
Otero said law abiding citizens are being punished by the order she said will have no effect on curbing crimes like the one her family suffered.
The governor issued her order on Friday suspending the open and concealed carry of guns in most public places. Lujan Grisham said she was compelled to act because of recent killings, including the death of an 11-year-old outside a minor league baseball stadium last week and the August shooting death of 13-year-old Amber Archuleta in Taos County.
Amber’s father, Joshua Archuleta, applauded the order, saying his family was destroyed.
“We are looking for answers and solutions to this issue,” he said in a Monday statement.
The Catholic Church is among the few who have joined longtime gun-control advocates in support of the order. The Most Rev. John C. Wester, archbishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe, insisted the governor is “not attacking the Second Amendment.”
“I hope to hear more of an outcry over an eleven-year-old boy killed by a bullet fired in a road rage incident than over the right to carry a gun,” he said.
Lujan Grisham defended her order as necessary, and rebuffed calls for her impeachment by Republican lawmakers, who have called on her to rescind it.
“As governor, it’s my job to take action and put New Mexicans’ safety first — not complain about problems we are elected to solve,” she said in a social media post over the weekend on X, formerly known as Twitter.
But even some influential Democrats and civil rights leaders typically aligned with the governor’s progressive political agenda warned that her well-intended move could do more harm than good to overall efforts to stem gun violence.
Several lawsuits have been filed, along with requests to block the order. No hearings have been scheduled yet in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
At an afternoon news conference, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce accused Lujan Grisham of “totalitarian” behavior and called her order unconstitutional.
“We need to knock this thing down and send her packing,” he said.
Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen and the police chief in Albuquerque said they won’t enforce the order, saying it violates constitutional rights. State Police spokesman Ray Wilson said late Monday that no citations had been issued by his agency.
Allen is among top law enforcement officials and prosecutors who have have said they weren’t consulted before Lujan Grisham sprung on them an order that even she admits will be ignored by criminals.
“It is quite irritating for me to see how this this 30-day ban completely overshadowed the robust conversations that we had with the governor and the office on what we are going to do to curb gun violence,” Allen said. “We had arguments. But again, we had solutions.”