A Tale of Two Emergencies

Late last week, New Mexico’s Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham made national headlines by suspending the right to carry firearms in her state. Declaring gun violence “a public health emergency,” the Governor’s order bans the carrying of fire arms, regardless of the legal eligibility of a person to possess and carry a firearm. New Mexico is a “shall issue” state when it comes to concealed carry permits and there is no permit required under state law for open carry.

Not surprisingly, Senate Republican leader Greg Baca was quick to point out, “A child is murdered, the perpetrator is still on the loose, and what does the governor do? She … targets law-abiding citizens with an unconstitutional gun order.”

While Lujan Grisham’s order won the support of groups like New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence and even the Catholic Church, other Democratic leaders were quick to distance themselves from the Governor.

New Mexico’s Democratic AG, Raúl Torrez, announced at a rally that he would not enforce the order, explaining he told the Governor in a letter, “it cannot be rebranded a public health emergency to justify a blanket 30-day prohibition against carrying firearms in and around Albuquerque.” 

In Albuquerque, Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen, also a Democrat, said on Monday he would not enforce the “unconstitutional” ban.

Former federal prosecutor and gun control advocate, Dennis Aftergut, in an op-ed on MSNBC’s website, questioned the expanded use of the “Public Health Emergency” to take away Constitutional rights. Aftergut states, “But in issuing the order, Lujan Grisham may have tripped over the rule of law herself. One cannot stand up for the legal order while at risk of violating its first principle. An executive official who uses a laudable end to justify means of questionable constitutionality sets a precedent that could easily come back to haunt us all.”

Aftergut then highlights actions President Trump could have taken on January 6, 2021 under the same justification if precedent had been set.

His sentiments are also carried by gun control advocate David Hogg who wrote on X (formerly Twitter), “I support gun safety but there is no such thing as a state public health emergency exception to the U.S. Constitution.”

Only days later, Governor Brian Kemp declared a State of Emergency in Georgia, due to high inflation and issued a 30 day suspension of the gas tax. The State’s Gas Tax accounts for $.312 of the cost of a gallon of regular gas and $.35 for a gallon of diesel.

“Suspending the gas tax is a way to get that money back in the pocket, or at least keep it from coming out of pocket, of hardworking Georgians, small business people like yourself, but also Georgia-based families,” Kemp said at an event in Jekyll Island.

While the suspension is paid for by the nearly $5 billion surplus in tax revenues the state has received, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Governor’s action sparked criticism from at least one Democratic State Lawmaker:

“State Rep. Ruwa Romman, a Gwinnett County Democrat, said she’s concerned that Kemp is abusing his powers to suspend the gas tax without consulting lawmakers.

‘There is no justification for the way the governor is circumventing the legislative branch on the budget. Georgians are unable to afford health care, hospitals are shutting down, and teachers are leaving the profession in droves,’ Romman said. ‘We should be addressing those challenges.’”

However, except from those who claim that the Governor’s actions were only to draw attention away from calls for the Governor to intervene in the Trump indictment, there is nowhere near the level of backlash that the New Mexico Governor is facing, even from her own party, and the reasons are deeply grounded in the philosophies of the two parties.

Delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention were greeted with an opening video that proudly proclaimed, “government is the only thing we all belong to.”

In New Mexico, Lujan Grisham has pushed back noting that as Governor, she has the power to suspend state laws and considers New Mexico’s carry laws to fall under that power. In her view, only New Mexico law, not the U.S. Constitution, gives New Mexicans the right to carry a weapon they lawfully possess. After all, if the citizens of New Mexico belong to the government, why can’t the government lawfully take away their right to carry for 30 days in the event of a Public Health Emergency?

Contrast that to Republicans, a party with the long held plank that tax dollars belong to the people who pay the taxes, not the government. What’s more, Kemp’s authority for suspending the gas tax is legislation passed in 2022. Lujan Grisham’s authority only stems from what she believes she has the plenary power to do, a power that even her own Attorney General, local law enforcement, Democratic members of her legislature and Congress, and even gun control activists do not believe she has the power to do. Whether she stands firm in her objective to “save the children,” at least for 30 days, or will bow to pressure from those in her own party, only the next few days will tell.

In 2024, there could not be a bigger contrast between the parties than the twin Emergency declarations from Governors Lujan Grisham and Kemp.

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