In the wake of her ill-fated and constitutionally unsound attempt to suspend the right to bear arms in Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has resisted appeals from some of her fellow Democrats to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session on “gun violence”. Instead, the governor has chosen to continue going it alone; revising her emergency public health order last week and scaling back its concealed carry prohibitions to apply only to parks and playgrounds in the city and county in the hopes of convincing a judge to let her revised order stand.
Still, a growing number of voices are demanding a special session to deal with “gun violence”, including several members of the Albuquerque City Council. But in a sign of just how unpopular the governor’s unilateral order disarming law-abiding citizens is among rank-and-file voters, the request for a special session comes with a caveat.
“When we’re talking crime here in Albuquerque, we are one of the most dangerous cities in America,” says Albuquerque City Councilwoman Brook Bassan.
The governor announced she would not call a special session for crime after Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen publicly urged her to. Now, Albuquerque city councilors are weighing in. Councilors Dan Lewis, Brooke Bassan, Louie Sanchez, and Renee Grout are introducing a resolution urging the governor to call a special session to specifically address crime.
“This is about making sure that we do everything we can. And we ask our governor for the support that we need so that she can do everything she can to help us while we also take some accountability,” says Bassan.
In addition to addressing the drug and mental health concerns, the resolution says a special session is needed to address reforming the pretrial detention system. Officials are calling for funding of the warrant program for the next five years and passing legislation to impose a lifetime sentence for repeat offenders who use firearms.
Virtually all of the gun control measures that Grisham has been demanding are notably absent from the resolution offered by the city council members; banning so-called assault weapons, raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, and imposing a 14-day waiting period on all gun transfers in the state. Instead, the resolution is focused squarely on punishing violent offenders rather than targeting lawful gun owners.
It’s worth noting that while the Albuquerque City Council is a non-partisan body (at least on paper), the four council members who’ve introduced this resolution all appear to be at least somewhat conservative in their political outlook. Grout, for instance, touts her NRA membership in her official biography, while Sanchez is a former Albuquerque police officer. Interestingly, though, Sanchez appears to be a registered Democrat, so the resolution in favor of a criminal justice and policing response to the city’s high rate of violent crime is more bipartisan than at first glance.
The opposition from both sides of the aisle to the governor’s declared emergency and abortive attempt to curtail the right to carry goes a long way towards explaining why Grisham has resisted calls for a special session. While bringing lawmakers back to Santa Fe to address “gun violence” would give Grisham some political cover, it’s pretty clear that the governor doesn’t have the political capital to force her fellow Democrats to bend to her will and approve the anti-gun measures she’s demanded. Earlier this year the legislature gaveled to a close without bringing those three policies to the floor for a vote, and while Grisham had hinted she’d call for a special session if lawmakers didn’t comply with her demands, she backed away from doing so shortly after the session wrapped up, telling reporters that she tries “not to use special sessions as a tool to force issues that we don’t have good collaboration on.”
In other words, the bills died because of a lack of support, not because the clock ran out before they could be approved. If the votes weren’t there in the regular session, there’s no reason to believe that a special session would be any different, and the governor would end up looking just as politically weak as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee did when he called a special session to approve his version of a “red flag” law only to see a majority in both chambers reject the idea before the session ever took place.
With at least four of the nine Albuquerque city council members calling for a special session focused on cracking down on violent criminals instead of responsible gun owners and a number of legislative Democrats urging Grisham to rescind her original order, a special session in Santa Fe this fall poses far more political risks for Grisham than potential rewards. And make no mistake, Grisham’s response to Albuquerque’s crime has been entirely political in nature. It doesn’t matter to her if the policies that those city council members are demanding would be of far more benefit to public safety than criminalizing the right to carry on an open-ended basis. What seems of most importance to the governor is generating headlines and promoting herself as a champion of gun control, even at the expense of the right of self-protection.
Even if the agenda items promoted by the Albuquerque city council members have to wait until January until they can be considered by the legislature, they still represent a vision of public safety diametrically opposed by the governor, and she’s sure to keep touting her own “ban our way to safety” approach both before and after lawmakers return to Santa Fe for the 2024 regular session. So far the governor hasn’t had much luck advancing her gun-grabbing bills, and with New Mexico gun owners now far more energized and engaged than they were before she issued her anti-2A edict, there’s a decent chance that real improvements to public safety can be approved on a bipartisan basis… and maybe even a veto-proof majority.