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Lawsuit targets gun ban at community centers

Mayor Tim Keller. (Journal file)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A conservative advocacy group is suing Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller for his decision to ban guns from city community centers, saying his administration is acting outside its authority.

The city, however, says the ban is “legally defensible” and a matter of community safety.

The New Mexico Patriots Advocacy Coalition and Albuquerque resident Lisa Brenner allege the administrative instruction signed last month violates state law – specifically, a provision in the New Mexico Constitution that prevents municipalities from regulating “an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”

“It is understood that the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute but may only be limited by regulation in the state of New Mexico by state government,” according to the lawsuit, filed Friday in state District Court in Albuquerque.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to rule the administrative instruction unconstitutional. They are also petitioning for a preliminary injunction to keep the city from enforcing it during litigation.

The plaintiff’s attorney said city officials’ efforts to ban guns at city facilities in the interest of safety are “extremely misguided.”

“But more importantly, the decisions about infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of New Mexico citizens is a decision that elected officials from municipalities in New Mexico are constitutionally prohibited from making,” lawyer A. Blair Dunn said in a written statement.

City officials said late Monday that they had not received the lawsuit and did not know details about it.

“However, the administrative instruction is legally defensible, just like the ban on guns in schools and universities,” Winter Torres, deputy city attorney for policy, said in a written statement Monday. “We are proactively taking steps to protect the thousands of kids and families who use our community centers every day.”

In prohibiting guns at community centers, Keller last month invoked a state law that prohibits firearms at schools, with a few exceptions, including for law enforcement officers. Because the city’s community centers offer programming for over 200,000 kids each year, the mayor said, they should fall under the same law.

The instruction, signed Aug. 16 by Keller’s chief administrative officer, Sarita Nair, also banned guns from the city’s health and social service centers, saying they fit the definition of “university premises.” It noted that the city’s four health and social service centers are used for the University of New Mexico Maternity & Family Planning clinic.

The New Mexico Legislature enabled such an application of those state laws by defining “public school premises” and “university premises” to include property not owned by the institutions but used for activities related to or sanctioned by schools, Nair wrote.

But the new lawsuit contends community centers, and health and social services centers “have not traditionally met” the definition of school and university premises, respectively, and that the city’s move “purports to reinterpret state criminal law … as a way to regulate the bearing of arms at these facilities.”

The suit comes just days after three Albuquerque city councilors – Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Diane Gibson – filed legislation that would impose a broader ban on firearms at city facilities, including parks, libraries and City Hall.

Their proposal is likely to go through the council’s committee process later this year.

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