Even as prosecutors in Albuquerque continue to investigate the shooting that occurred Tuesday night at a protest over a statue in the city’s Old Town, and have (for now, anyway) dropped charges of aggravated assault against the man fired the shots, the Santa Fe New Mexican has decided to put the Second Amendment on trial, accusing it of aiding and abetting the violence.
The paper praises Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s response to the shooting, in which she placed blame on armed members of the group New Mexico Civil Guard for having “engaged only to provoke violence at peaceful protests.” For what it’s worth, members of the group say 31-year old Steven Ray Baca isn’t associated with them, and say they detained Baca until police arrived a few minutes after the shooting took place. Police placed several members of the group in handcuffs and confiscated their firearms, but none of the men are currently facing any charges.
Albuquerque’s mayor declared that the group is trying to “prop up white supremacy” and may be connected to domestic terrorism. Those are some pretty serious charges to be throwing around, and yet I can’t find where the mayor actually offered any evidence. The Guardian did a deep dive into the group’s social media history, but what they found was pretty paltry.
Although the group did not respond to an interview request from the Guardian, it has claimed to be a community organization that is apolitical and non-racist. Yet its Facebook page, which was taken down sometime on Tuesday, featured a “white lives matter” video, NRA slogans and other rightwing material.
NRA slogans and “rightwing material” isn’t racist, though I suppose you could make the case that its apolitical. As for the “white lives matter” video, it would have been nice to have been provided a link, or the context of the video’s message, as well as how it was received by members of the Civil Guard on its Facebook page. It’s quite possible that members are all a bunch of incorrigible racists. Maybe they’re even plotting acts of terror. It’s also quite possible that they’re not doing either of those things. All I know is that the narrative is being established without offering much compelling evidence. That sounds a lot like McCarthyism to me.*
The New Mexican‘s editorial is less hyperbolic than the politicians it praises, but it offers up a policy prescription that would turn both the state and U.S. Constitution on its head.
Whatever happens in the special session, investigation into militia groups and potential links to law enforcement will continue after the session. The governor announced Wednesday she is supporting making a police officer’s disciplinary history a matter of public record and wants that debated in the upcoming session, along with a ban on putting suspects in chokehold restraints and requiring officers to wear body cameras.
But there’s another immediate action the Legislature could take: Rescind the state’s open-carry law, among the most permissive in the country. It would no longer be legal to show up with a gun in public, whether at a protest, at a City Council meeting or in the Roundhouse. That would reduce the possibility of violence, something we need to do. When the open-carry law is gone, then move to the state’s concealed-carry statute — that will take leadership and likely should be dealt with in a longer legislative meeting.
One of the dangers of the Supreme Court signaling that, at best, there’s no clear support for a decision that would recognize a right to carry at the moment is that Democrats in blue states like New Mexico may feel emboldened to go big on gun control as part of their efforts to overhaul policing. Why let a crisis go to waste, after all?
Never mind that the Supreme Court has at least acknowledged the right to bear arms in the Heller decision, though it hasn’t paid it any legal mind since then. Here’s what the New Mexico state constitution has to say in Article II, Section VI:
No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.
You can tell how much research the New Mexican‘s editors put into their argument from the fact that they say the state should start with banning open carry instead of concealed carry. The constitution specifically allows for the legislature to ban the concealed carrying of firearms if it wanted to, but the right to bear arms for all lawful purposes is clear. Ban concealed carry if you can, but then you’re left with the open carrying of firearms.
In fact, if the editorial writers of the New Mexican bothered to research their own position, they would have discovered that in a 1971 case called City of Las Vegas v. Moberg, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Las Vegas (where, incidentally, the movie Red Dawn would be filmed a decade later) could not ban the carrying of firearms. The court’s opinion is short but sweet.
Ordinances prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons have generally been held to be a proper exercise of police power.
Such ordinances do not deprive citizens of the right to bear arms; their effect is only to regulate the right. As applied to arms, other than those concealed, the ordinance under consideration purports to completely prohibit the “right to bear arms.”
It is our opinion that an ordinance may not deny the people the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms, and to that extent the ordinance under consideration is void.
So, if the editors of the New Mexican are going to get their way, it’s not just a matter of changing the law. It’s a matter of changing the state constitution as well. And, even if New Mexico anti-gun activists somehow managed do that, it would be the first state in modern history to repeal a carry law, and that might be a court challenge big and broad enough that even Chief Justice Roberts might get on board with overturning the ban. After all, if the Supreme Court’s already declared that the right to keep arms is an individual right, how could it conclude that the right to bear arms is somehow different?
Finally, there’s the fact that while Steven Ray Baca isn’t currently facing any charges for shooting the protester who attacked him, he is facing a charge of carrying a concealed firearm without a license. That’s right. Baca wasn’t legally carrying when he pulled the trigger of his gun. The New Mexican‘s proposed carry ban would have done nothing at all to prevent this protest from spiraling from a shove to a shot.
The editors of New Mexican would have been better off appealing to the better angels of the state’s residents than urging the infringement of their civil rights. It’s particularly sad to see a bad idea argued with so few facts and such little research by the journalists whose ultimate job should be exposing the truth, instead of ignorantly opining away in favor of fantastical and unconstitutional restrictions on our individual liberty.
*For the record, my position is that McCarthy took a very real and serious threat of Soviet spying, particularly in the 1930s and 40s, and through a combination of political popularity, personal interest, and ultimately incompetence mixed with addiction to power, turned the very real Soviet spy rings that were made public by the testimony of people like Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers, into a witch hunt where simply unorthodox points of view became cause for suspicion of espionage or even treason. I’m not a fan. If you want to find anti-Communist heroes from that time period, there are far better choices than Joseph McCarthy.