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Federal judge won’t block suspension of right to carry guns in some New Mexico parks, playgrounds

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) —

A federal judge cleared the way Wednesday for enforcement of a public health order that suspends the right to carry guns at public parks and playgrounds in New Mexico’s largest metro area.

The order from U.S. District Judge David Urias rejects a request from gun rights advocates to block temporary firearms restrictions as legal challenges move forward.

It marks a victory for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her advocacy for temporary gun restrictions in response to recent shootings around the state that left children dead.

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The standoff is one of many in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year expanding gun rights, as leaders in politically liberal-leaning states explore new avenues for restrictions.

In New Mexico, the restrictions have ignited a furor of public protests, prompted Republican calls for the governor’s impeachment and widened divisions among top Democratic officials.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, continued to argue this week that some sensitive public spaces should be off limits for open or concealed carry of firearms.

Gun rights advocates have filed an array of lawsuits and court motions aimed at blocking the restrictions in her order, arguing that even a new, scaled-back version would deprive Albuquerque-area residents of 2nd Amendment rights to carry in public for self-defense.

But in denying the request for injunction, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown a substantial likelihood of success in court. He rejected arguments that gun restrictions for “sensitive” places should apply only to locations for core government functions, such as polling places, and not playgrounds.

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“Given the Supreme Court’s recognition of schools as sensitive places and the sound analogy between schools and playgrounds … the court finds that the recognition of what constitutes a sensitive place could very well be determined by the type of function occurring at those locations as well as whether a vulnerable population — such as children — utilize such locations,” Urias wrote.

Urias also said it appears “plausible, although not certain” that the governor may “demonstrate a national historical tradition of firearm restrictions at public parks within cities.”

Zachary Fort, who is a plaintiff in several consolidated lawsuits challenging the gun restrictions, said he carries in public parks for self-defense when he can.

“I was disappointed in the judge’s decision today, but I think it’s too early to say now what our next steps are going to be,” Fort said.

The governor’s initial order would have suspended gun-carry rights in most public places in the Albuquerque area, while the current version applies only to public parks and playgrounds with an exception that ensures access to a municipal shooting range park. The restrictions were tied to a statistical threshold for violent crime that applies only to Albuquerque and the surrounding area.

State police have authority under the order to assess civil penalties and a fine of up to $5,000, but the sheriff and Albuquerque’s police chief had refused to enforce it.

The rest of the public health order has remained intact, including directives for monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals, wastewater testing for illicit substances at schools, safe-surrender programs for gun owners who choose to decommission firearms they no longer want and more.

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A temporary restraining order that previously blocked the gun restrictions was to expire at the end of Wednesday.