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Court reviews gun-carry restrictions under health order in New Mexico, as states explore options

FILE - Albuquerque residents Michael Caldwell, left, and his wife, Natasha Caldwell, attend a Second Amendment Protest in response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's recent public health order suspending the conceal and open carry of guns in and around Albuquerque for 30-days, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M. Natasha said "we came to stand for the constitution and out of anger about what's happening with this health order." Restrictions on carrying guns in public that are tied to an emergency public health order are going under the legal microscope Tuesday, Oct. 3, in New Mexico. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An effort to suspend gun-carry rights in public parks, playgrounds and other areas where children are often present went under the legal microscope Tuesday in a federal court in New Mexico, where the Democratic governor is testing the boundaries of her authority and constitutional law in response to violent crime in the state’s largest metro area.

Gun rights advocates urged a federal judge to extend his September decision blocking all temporary gun restrictions by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, arguing that even a new, scaled-back version of the public health measure would deprive Albuquerque-area residents of constitutional rights to carry a gun in public for self-defense under the 2nd Amendment.

U.S. District Judge David Urias said he won't rule until next week on a new request to block the order, allowing more time for written brief and deliberations. Enforcement of the temporary restrictions at public parks is on hold with little or no way to determine whether people still are carrying guns there. Urias has not blocked new provisions that explicitly suspend gun-carry rights at playgrounds.

The standoff is one of many in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year expanding gun rights, as leaders in politically liberal-leaning states explore new avenues for restrictions.

An attorney for Lujan Grisham delivered an impassioned defense of the state's public health order Tuesday, calling it a “temporary cooling-off period” in response to several recent shootings that killed children and evidence of surging gun violence.

“What we are talking about is the mental health of our children who have to practice hiding from gunmen when they’re at school,” said Holly Agajanian, chief counsel to the governor. “I think that they’re entitled to go to a park, I think they’re entitled to go to the playground and not have to worry about whether or not somebody standing at the other end of the playground holding a weapon is a good guy or a bad guy.”

Advocates for gun rights have filed a barrage of challenges to the 30-day health order, which originally included broad restrictions on carrying guns in public.

The governor plans to reissue her emergency orders on gun violence and drug for at least an additional 30 days, Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said Monday in an email. She said the urgent approach to violent crime is spurring arrests and reining in gunfire, even as the enforcement of gun restrictions is on hold. The orders include directives for monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals and wastewater testing for illicit substances.

Urias ruled last month that gun restrictions in the governor’s original order were likely to cause irreparable harm to people deprived of the right to carry a gun in public for self-defense.

The governor has tied the suspension of some gun rights to a statistical threshold for violent crime that applied only to Albuquerque and the surrounding area.

Urias said in a recent court filing that restrictions on gun activity at playgrounds and other places where children play “may very well be constitutional.”

State police briefly would have authority under the order to assess civil penalties and fines of up to $5,000 for infractions. The sheriff and Albuquerque’s police chief had refused to enforce it.

The order has energized advocates for gun rights, including Republican lawmakers who have threatened impeachment proceedings against Lujan Grisham.

Some influential Democrats and civil rights leaders warn that the governor's move could do more harm than good to overall efforts to ease gun violence, and the Democratic state attorney general has urged her to reconsider.

Other states including California, Washington, Colorado and Maryland have passed gun laws this year that face legal challenges.

Last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed nearly two dozen gun control measures, including ones banning the carrying of firearms in most public places while doubling taxes on guns and ammunition sales.

Newsom has acknowledged some of the gun measures might not survive in the courts. Last month a federal judge struck down a state law banning guns with detachable magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.

Morgan Lee, The Associated Press

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