Sante Fe may be 1,900 miles from Concord, but New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “public health emergency” order restricting gun rights fired a shot that ricocheted into Granite State politics.
On Friday, Lujan Grisham announced an emergency order suspending the right to carry firearms in public across Albuquerque, N.M., and the surrounding area for at least 30 days. It was an effort to fight gun violence, the first-term Democrat said.
“The time for standard measures has passed. And when New Mexicans are afraid to be in crowds, to take their kids to school, to leave a baseball game—when their very right to exist is threatened by the prospect of violence at every turn—something is very wrong,” Lujan Grisham said.
Second Amendment advocates immediately condemned the order as a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“It is extremely clear that Grisham knows she is operating outside of constitutional bounds, especially after last summer’s Bruen ruling, which specifically protected individuals’ rights to carry firearms outside the home,” the National Association for Gun Rights said in a statement. It has already filed a lawsuit challenging the order.
Lujan Grisham conceded Second Amendment advocates may be right, but she defended her actions anyway.
“No constitutional right, in my view, including my oath (to uphold the constitution), is intended to be absolute,” Lujan Grisham said.
In an interview with The New York Times, she added, “I have emergency powers. Gun violence is an epidemic. Therefore, it’s an emergency.”
The New Mexico governor’s order garnered attention — and inspired outrage — across the country, including in New Hampshire. The issue has particular resonance in the Granite State, where Gov. Chris Sununu and Republicans in the legislature recently concluded a contentious political fight over additional restrictions on the executive’s emergency order powers.
The two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in next year’s race to succeed Sununu both denounced Lujan Grisham’s actions and pledged they would never do the same.
“As governor, I would stand absolutely against any attempt to weaken our constitutional rights,” said former state Senate President Chuck Morse. “Instead, as governor, I would work with the legislature to craft an amendment to the state constitution to permanently prohibit any public official from using their emergency powers to reduce our citizens’ constitutional rights, those enshrined in either the state or federal constitutions.”
On the campaign trail, Morse often touts the fact that he helped pass the state’s constitutional carry law, signed by Sununu in 2017.
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte also condemned the New Mexico governor’s actions.
“No one has the right to disregard the constitution. As governor, I will always respect and defend the rights and freedoms of New Hampshire residents,” Ayotte said.
NHJournal sent multiple requests for comment to Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, asking their view of their fellow Democrat’s actions and if they would commit not to take similar actions if elected governor. Both declined to respond. They are currently the only two announced Democratic candidates for governor.
New Hampshire GOP chair Chris Ager said this abuse of power is too important for the candidates not to give voters an answer.
“Are Democrat candidates for governor keeping the door open to the possibility of suspending Granite Staters’ rights, including the right to bear arms? This is unequivocally wrong and another stark example of why we need to keep a Republican in the corner office.”
The good news for concerned New Hampshire gun owners, legislative and legal experts say, is that state laws give the governor less leeway than New Mexico and provide more protections for gun ownership.
“I haven’t done all the research, but at first blush, it looks like our constitutional protection of gun rights here in New Hampshire is stronger than in New Mexico, and our governors’ emergency powers are narrower,” said attorney Richard Lehman.
Attorney and former speaker of the New Hampshire House, Bill O’Brien, took a similar view.
“New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 30-day ban on the right to bear arms clearly is not legal under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. Any similar action in New Hampshire would be likewise unconstitutional,” O’Brien said.
“At the same time, the extraordinary powers granted under the New Hampshire statute authorizing the governor to declare and act in a state of emergency are specific and limited. The authorizing statutory language includes this prohibition: ‘Notwithstanding the foregoing enumerated powers, civil liberties shall on no account be suspended, nor shall the United States Constitution or the New Hampshire Constitution be suspended.’”
“This language would rule out a New Hampshire governor joining Grisham on her lawless journey,” O’Brien said.
Not everyone in New Hampshire is so sure.
“Is this illegal? Yes,” said Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton), who is also a Second Amendment activist. “But as we saw during COVID, constitutional rights — such as the right to assemble and worship — were infringed when the governor chose to shut down churches.”
And, Lehmann added, while an executive order takes just a minute to sign, going to court can take months.
“At the end of the day, a governor who wants to restrict gun rights will get away with it right up until the time that his or her action is successfully challenged in court. That’s why elections matter.”