On Sept. 6, Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham declared the State of New Mexico in two states of Public Health Emergency due to drug abuse and gun violence.
In Executive Order 2023-132, Lujan-Grisham established her reasoning for the state of public health emergency due to drug abuse: “1,501 fatal overdoses reported in the state in 2021,” the fifth-highest rate nationwide.
Executive Order 2023-130 establishes the justification for the state of public health emergency due to gun violence: three deaths of minors involving firearms and two mass shootings, all of which occurred in New Mexico since the beginning of the year; the rising rate of gun deaths from 2009 to 2018; and the burden placed on the health-care system and medical workers.
The shootings of minors mentioned in the orders include the deaths of:
• 13-year-old Amber Archuleta, who was shot and killed during a teen gathering by a 14-year-old boy, who dragged her body outside before returning to the residence.
• 5-year-old Galilea Samaniego, who was struck by gunfire while asleep in a mobile home during a drive-by shooting.
• 11 year-old Froylan Villegas, who was shot in the head and killed and whose aunt was critically injured after 17 shots were fired from a vehicle at their truck as they left an Isotopes baseball game.
One mass shooting involved an 18-year-old gunman in Farmington who fired at random in a residential area, killing three and injuring six, including two police officers. The other incident involved shots fired between two motorcycle gangs, the “Water Dogs” and “Bandidos,” which resulted in three deaths.
Following the governor’s order, Secretary of the Department of Health Patrick Allen issued a Pubilc Health Order of his own, which establishes the restriction of the public carry of firearms “either openly or concealed, within cities or counties averaging 1,000 or more violent crimes per 100,000 residents per year […] AND more than 90 firearm-related emergency department visits per 100,000 residents from July 2022 to June 2023.”
The secretary’s order also calls for monthly inspections of licensed firearms dealers by the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, public school wastewater testing by the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Environmental Department, and the suspension of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, among other directives.
Each of these executive orders follows a protocol established by Lujan-Grisham in Senate Bill 196, which added new sections to and amended other sections of the Emergency Powers Code in late 2022. These sections affirm that a state of public health emergency can be established by the governor after consulting with the secretary of health.
Allen was appointed to his role in January and accepted by the state in February after transferring to New Mexico from Oregon, where he led Oregon’s response to COVID-19.
The executive orders challenge New Mexico Constitution Article II Section 6 as well as the New Mexico Supreme Court decision of Baca v. NM Dept. of Public Safety (2002), which struck down the Concealed Handgun Carry Act of 2001, not based on opposition to the right to carry but opposition towards regulation of the right to carry based on a severability clause the Court deemed unconstitutional.
The Court reasoned “the Legislature’s delegation of authority to local governments to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons […] violates the constitutional proscription against municipal and county regulation of an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”
New Mexico has championed gun rights historically, as far back as a 1994 law in Catron County which legally required all heads of household to own a firearm and ammunition.
In 2003, a second Concealed Handgun Carry Act passed and remained, allowing all New Mexico residents who are 21 years of age or older and who have completed the required training, submitted two sets of fingerprints, and paid the $100 fee to carry a concealed weapon in many public places.
The Republican Party of New Mexico quickly expressed dissent to these orders and announced plans for a lawsuit to be filed against the governor and the Secretary of Health. A quick glance at social media shows these sentiments are shared by many community members in the Eddy County region.
Community member and gun rights advocate Lee Cottrell expressed to the Daily Press he feels the governor is merely showboating to test “what she can get away with” in an effort to earn a position in D.C. He said, ”The NM County Sheriffs all took an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. I and many others are extremely grateful that we still have some elected officials that know how important the constitution is.”
Other residents feel that the governor is well aware that the order is legally un-enforceable but felt compelled to issue it in order to draw attention to the recent outbreak of violence, in particular the murders of the three youth.
“The gun violence in New Mexico and across our country has had devastating impacts on families, communities, and our sense of safety. It’s why I led the effort on the first federal gun reform law passed in nearly three decades. There is more that can and should be done to stem the violence and ensure every American can feel safe at school, at the grocery store, or at the movie theatre. As we do that work, we need to focus on solutions that are constitutional and enforceable. That’s what will save lives.”
— U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich
“Gun violence is a national crisis that is deeply impacting our families, our children, and our schools. We must address this crisis by keeping New Mexico families safe while also supporting solutions that are constitutional and protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. I look forward to working with the Governor to address this crisis while taking the most effective, legal steps to stem the scourge of gun violence.”
— U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, N.M.-02
State Rep. Jim Townsend, District 54, issued a statement that can be found on Page A7