New Mexico Gov’s Gun Order Attacked Even by Fellow Dems
Plus: MTG makes a plea for national disunity on the anniversary of 9/11.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, The Bulwark’s twice-weekly newsletter on Congress, campaigns, and the way Washington works. Sign up below to get free editions every Tuesday, and subscribe to Bulwark+ to get the extra-good stuff on Thursdays. This coming Thursday we’ll be looking at the Freedom Caucus threat to shut down the government and much more.
Today, though, let’s start with the recent executive order by the governor of New Mexico suspending some gun rights, an action that has elicited widespread and surprisingly bipartisan condemnation. The episode is a case study in how the two parties behave differently when a member of the team pushes the limits of their authority. We’ll also take a look at how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene chose to spend the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 (hint: badly). All that and more below.
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On Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order declaring gun violence to constitute a “public health emergency” and revoking the right to carry a gun in public in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County for 30 days. At a news conference, Lujan Grisham said “I welcome the debate and fight” over her order, and she didn’t have to wait long to get them: Not only many Republicans but many of her fellow Democrats have spoken out to say that her order likely violates the United States Constitution.
“The time for standard measures has passed,” said Lujan Grisham. “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.” In addition to the general climate of violence, a number of specific episodes prompted her action, according to her press release:
the death in Albuquerque on August 14 of Galilea Samaniego (age 5), who was killed in her sleep by one of eight bullets that were, according to prosecutors, fired into a trailer by a group of teenagers;
the death on September 6 of Froylan Villegas (age 11), who was leaving an Albuquerque Isotopes minor-league baseball game, in an apparent road rage incident that also paralyzed his cousin from the waist down;
a mass shooting on May 15 in Farmington, in which an 18-year-old apparently seeking “suicide by cop” began randomly firing at cars and houses, killing three women (ages 73 to 97) and injuring six others; and
another mass shooting at a motorcycle rally in Red River on May 27 that reportedly began after a confrontation between biker gangs and left three men (ages 26 to 46) dead and five others injured.
When I asked New Mexico’s senior senator, Martin Heinrich, about the order issued by his fellow Democrat, he affirmed the governor’s intent but somewhat cagily sided with those who have criticized Lujan Grisham’s approach as illegal. “I agree that we have an enormous challenge with gun violence and that it should be our focus, but any policies and solutions also have to be consistent with the law,” he said. Heinrich did not answer followup questions.
New Mexico’s other senator, Ben Ray Luján, also a Democrat, was not willing to share his views on the order. In response to three repeated requests for his take on its legality from me and another reporter, Sen. Luján offered several evasions that sound like they could have been generated by ChatGPT, including this one: “I think the governor is making decisions in the state of New Mexico, and at the federal level, I’m going to keep pushing policies to reduce gun violence all across the country, including back in New Mexico.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of Capitol Hill’s most ardent supporters of stricter gun laws, told me he’s skeptical of the legality of Lujan Grisham’s order.
I don’t know that it’s gonna pass constitutional muster but her order doesn’t exist in a vacuum. She has all these sheriffs running around New Mexico refusing to enforce state laws. I’m still trying to figure out the legality of her order, but I’ve had smart people tell me that it may not ultimately measure up constitutionally. But she’s in a really awful position because she’s got the majority of counties in New Mexico that are refusing to enforce laws. So New Mexico’s just a bit of a mess when it comes to gun laws.
Lujan Grisham responded in a quote-tweet of Lieu’s post: “Hey Ted, conceal and open carry are state laws that I have jurisdiction over. If you’re really interested in helping curb gun violence, I’d welcome you to join our next police academy class.”
Activist and Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor David Hogg made the same point as Lieu, posting, “I support gun safety but there is no such thing as a state public health emergency exception to the U.S. Constitution.”
Lawsuits are already mounting against the order, an effort led by pro-gun organizations the National Association for Gun Rights and Gun Owners of America. The National Rifle Association is also weighing a lawsuit of its own that would seek up to $2 million in damages “per person affected by the order,” the Reload’s Stephen Gutowski reports.
On Monday evening, I spoke to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the controversial order and the options available to those who oppose it. While Cruz is clearly coming at the issue as an unabashed gun rights advocate, his experiences provide him with a unique perspective on the situation: He has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and won five, more than any current member of Congress. He also led the drafting of an amicus brief of 31 attorneys general in the consequential District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008 that struck down Washington, D.C. laws restricting handgun ownership and affirmed an individual right to carry a firearm under the Second Amendment.
Cruz told me one of the ways New Mexico residents could most effectively challenge the order would be to openly flout it:
It is a wildly unconstitutional order. It will be struck down in court. [Lujan Grisham] knows it will be struck down in court. And one of the vehicles for getting it struck down . . . will be New Mexico citizens making a decision to risk incarceration to challenge it. That's the decision each individual citizen has to make.
Our conversation went south when I questioned why he and other congressional Republicans are so quick to decry orders like these while defending similarly legally dubious activities such as Ron DeSantis flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard under apparently false pretenses, or Donald Trump doing, well, everything he’s accused of doing. Cruz then reverted to his position that the Justice Department is weaponized against conservatives (you know how it goes), so I called it a night. But his point about the potential for populist resistance to the New Mexico order is worth keeping in mind as the legal process plays out.
In general, responses to the governor’s order have been quite telling about the current political climate. While very likely unconstitutional, the order is small in scope and has an expiration date not far off from that of an actual gallon of milk; it was never going to fundamentally change anything. Lujan Grisham’s behavior in the days since signing it, such as lashing out at local sheriffs and arguing with high-profile members of Congress online, gives her action the air of a public relations strategy. That many Democrats—even dedicated advocates of stricter gun laws—are condemning the move speaks to the gulf that has opened between their party and the GOP, where similar behavior is either ignored or, in some cases, applauded and adopted as party orthodoxy.
United we stand?
Many Americans commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the September 11th attacks yesterday. Almost everyone who was alive at the time has an indelible memory of what happened that day and where they were when they heard what was going on. Many of us also remember a push to unify the country in the days following the attacks. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) chose to take a slightly different tack on Monday when she called for states to secede from the Union.
This is a step up from her previous comments insinuating the same thing. You might recall that she demanded a “national divorce” on President’s Day this year. Perhaps making statements like these on national holidays and days of remembrance is a tactic she’s decided to adopt to gin up her engagement scores.
This sort of attention-seeking behavior by Greene is red meat for her most diehard supporters. Fantasies of secession or forming new states through ballot measures and social movements are becoming more and more attractive to the militaristic-fanatic wing of the populist far right. These dreams represent an abdication of politics itself, and the cynical use of the public commemoration of the lives lost on 9/11 just adds to the shame of it all.
A side note on terminology in the gun debate: Activists increasingly refer to themselves as proponents of “gun safety,” while Republicans label them advocates of “gun control.” These are different names for the same set of positions, but Democrats’ rebrand of their cause has made it more palatable to independent voters, which in turn has helped embolden some of the party’s moderates to take firmer stands on the issue. This parallels Republican efforts to rebrand their stance on abortion, the goal being a move away from the term “pro-life” in favor of a still undetermined replacement. As always, it’s important for reporters and readers alike to look beyond these workshopped terms to see the individual policy positions for what they are.