Declaring Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza a weapons-free school zone because the Downtown open space is sometimes used for school PE is a stretch. And it’s a label that promises to open a whole “box of Pandoras,” as the late Gov. Bruce King used to say, with the possible unintended consequences of banning alcohol sales during concerts and registered sex offenders from job fairs.
Plus, it’s not likely to hold up in court.
The impetus is well-intentioned, if not constitutionally grounded. Four days after a protester was shot and seriously injured during a confrontation near the Juan de Oñate statue outside the Albuquerque Museum, city Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, an attorney, signed administrative instruction No. 5-20.
The June 19 instruction expanded the prohibition of guns in schools to city parks; the Albuquerque Regional Sports Complex and city golf courses that are used for public school sporting events; any property used for a food service program for children; the Convention Center, which is used for graduations; and Civic Plaza, “which educators and students from Amy Biehl Charter High School regularly use for physical education activities and in which playground equipment is located.”
And it wasn’t long before a 40-year-old kindergarten teacher with a gun holstered across his chest was handcuffed and cited for having a firearm on Civic Plaza. Francisco “Frankie” Grady was helping set the stage for a Black New Mexico Movement protest on a Sunday morning in mid-July, but he ended up with a fourth-degree felony charge of unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon on school premises. Fellow organizer La’Quonte’ Barry, 31, was detained and cited with the same charge.
Prosecutors dismissed the cases last month. Grady told the Journal’s Elise Kaplan, “I went back to Civic Plaza, and I was for the life of me looking for a school, and I could not find one.”
Our state’s strong gun culture is embodied in its Constitution, and there are generations of hunters and marksmen/women in our state. But the city’s moves are laudable given the violence the city has experienced, as well as the national civil unrest following shocking police shootings of people of color. And it goes far beyond Civic Plaza to sites including Los Altos Skate Park, where a 7-year-old boy was shot in the head in July, a 33-year-old man was fatally shot last year, and a 17-year-old boy was killed and six others were wounded during a gunfight in 2015.
But banning guns at city parks or recreation sites is a call state government – Legislature and governor, supported by constitutional analysis – should make. Not 33 counties and myriad municipalities, which would lead to a patchwork of gun regulations and visitors not knowing what is allowed where.
State law already prohibits carrying firearms inside any K-12 school, state or federal courthouse, state college or university campus, military installation, public transportation, secure areas of an airport, Native American reservations without prior permission and private property where it’s not permitted.
State lawmakers have put time and effort into threading this Second Amendment-public safety needle. The exceptions have met constitutional muster. And New Mexicans seem to be OK with the prohibitions. So a new state risk-reward analysis of firearms in public gathering spaces is a logical continuation.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque’s ban last year is being challenged in court, and the state Attorney General’s Office is considering the constitutionality of the Civic Plaza-as-a-school gun ban.
There are few issues as contentious as a gun-control law in New Mexico. But our state lawmakers need to weigh in again on where and when firearms should be prohibited – to protect the public’s safety and Second Amendment rights.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.