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The Bernalillo County Gun Ban: Noble Intent, Incomplete Solutions
Sabrina Falkowsky

Sep 21, 2023

Albuquerque, the city best known for hit television show Breaking Bad, is also known for high rates of violence and theft. The governor announced a public health order on September 8, 2023, targeting gun deaths and illegal drug use in Albuquerque. Despite noble intentions, her order has severe flaws.

What is the most effective way to curb gun deaths in a city? For New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, the most recent solution is to place a thirty day ban on open and concealed carry firearms in Bernalillo County, the home of Albuquerque, the state’s most populous city.

It is not infrequent for college students to attend parties near the University of New Mexico, and leave because someone pulled out a gun. New Mexico’s gun culture is very strong, and the governor’s public health order stands in direct opposition to that culture.

While the governor’s intentions are noble, there are flaws in her plan. Albuquerque had 16.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, but the state overall had a rate of 22.7 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Quay and Catron counties, on the Eastern and Western borders of New Mexico, respectively, each had average rates of over 30 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the past decade.

A study conducted by Columbia University, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the University of California, Davis found that rural areas tend to have higher gun death rates per capita than urban areas. While targeting Albuquerque could bring the number of gun deaths down within the city, it does not account for rural areas, which make up 60% of the state’s population.

Further, Albuquerque officials and law enforcement have not met the governor’s public health order with open support. The Albuquerque Police Department has no plan to enforce the gun ban within the city.

Even if the city’s police were willing to enforce the gun ban, the executive order could only curb shootings in public spaces. Any shootings that occur in private residences, for example, would not see a perpetrator in violation of the executive order. The gun ban poses a logistical nightmare at best for the city's law enforcement, and fails to address the root causes of violent crime in the city.

On September 15, Governor Grisham amended the public health order, narrowing the scope of the gun ban to public parks and playgrounds. This amendment, meant to appease all concerned parties, reinforces the governor's intention: to protect children from violent crime. Unfortunately, the amendment did not appease state Republicans, as they continue to push for impeachment, citing the United States Constitution.

Both Mayor Tim Keller and the Bernalillo County sheriff advocated instead for a special legislative session in order to enact long term solutions to violence in Albuquerque, including addressing the city’s high poverty rates, lack of addiction and mental health services and broken criminal justice system. Violence, even gun violence, does not exist in a vacuum, and the people who interact with the city of Albuquerque regularly are more aware of the factors influencing crime than the people who live and work in Santa Fe, the state’s capital.

Additionally, in a state with a strong gun culture like New Mexico, a firearm ban is not an effective gun control policy. Gun control policies should be implemented gradually. While Governor Lujan Grisham has noble intentions, a public health order will not solve gun violence in Albuquerque. The only way to improve public safety is to enact long-term solutions addressing the roots of violence in the city.

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