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New Mexico governor says her order is about gun violence, not politics

Associated Press, Susan Montoya Bryan
Gov Lujan Grisham full interview.mp3

A federal judge Wednesday blocked part of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order suspending the right to carry guns in public in the Albuquerque metro area. She had already received pushback from the Attorney General, two members of the congressional delegation and other elected officials in the state, many of them fellow Democrats.

The governor spoke with KUNM before the judge’s ruling. Lujan Grisham says her executive order isn’t about a political debate over gun control, but rather a response to a crisis in gun violence and how it affects children and their families.

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: An 11-year-old, lost his life. A 5-year-old lost her life, 143 kids, in the last four years have lost their lives. We ranked among the worst in child wellbeing and in violence in our state. And it is outrageous that we don't do everything every single day, to focus on the people who are depending, frankly, on me to reverse that course, immediately. What I do expect, and I'm getting that, is ideas and action-oriented strategies. And I received a letter from the city [of Albuquerque], that is clear to me, based on my meetings with Chief [Harold] Medina, that had mostly to do with that police department and their leadership, identifying a number of things that they can do differently, as long as we give them the kind of targeted resources and support. And they can expect me to provide a swift response in support of many, if not all, of those requests.

KUNM: How do you feel about the Attorney General's letter saying he won't defend you in litigation regarding this?

LUJAN GRISHAM: I'd say he's on the wrong side of this debate. He should be all about “Here are the things that the attorney general in my new civil rights division can do to protect the fear and intimidation that is occurring every single day because our communities aren't safe.” And I know that he is more than capable in this space. And as an elected leader, I have no doubt that we'll get to a place where we'll have those action-oriented items. But it was a real missed opportunity and a huge disappointment.

KUNM: What would you say to those voicing concerns that this could lead to over policing and criminalizing of young people?

LUJAN GRISHAM: We certainly have to meet everyone's constitutional protections here, including that, right? But we also have to recognize that 12% of our violent gun crime, those offenders are adolescents, that we have a significant growing teen violence problem in the city and the state. Look, whatever age you are, fentanyl use is illegal today. And that's often the way that you get a young person or a young adult, to be able to accept treatment. You know what we really want here in these public health orders? Is to make sure that the public safety aspects immediately get improved, but that we figure out a much more productive path to saving the lives of the people who are under the grips of fentanyl, and related substance abuse or addictions.

KUNM: You've also directed the Department of Health and the Environment Department to test wastewater in schools. Do you think they have the capacity?

LUJAN GRISHAM: I do. it's a weird way to talk about how difficult it was to lead, manage and protect people during COVID, which is our job. But the environment department in particular developed a number of innovative strategies to detect any number of things in wastewater, and in water sources in general. And we can take a look at a baseline, identify how much is in there so that we can really focus on a particular problem. And also look at it when it shifts. And while schools have to be part of the equation, also, think about the strategies we can use in a corrections and jail space, where we've had any number of fentanyl overdoses in jail. So this is a way to make sure that all of the people who are accountable and responsible, know what's happening in the context of the things that they're supposed to be doing.

KUNM: So what's the plan going forward?

LUJAN GRISHAM: The plan going forward is to keep every single partner, all the pressure points, everyone accountable, until every bad actor that should be picked up and incarcerated is. And until we see this crisis, right, unfold in another direction, which is safer streets, fewer gun violence incidents, fewer injuries in our hospitals, fewer drug addictions, fewer people who are on the streets with nowhere to turn because there aren't any supports or treatment. All of the above. The risks present in Albuquerque are unacceptable. And we will begin to identify exactly what those accountability measures are.

Megan Myscofski was a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.