Augustine of Hippo, one of the largest intellectual and theological giants of the entire Christian and Western tradition, once famously wrote that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
This principle has become a bedrock of Christian legal thought throughout the centuries, as it recognizes that the true nature of law demands that for a law to have compelling moral force, it must be just; even more, from a Christian understanding, it must be aligned with the righteous standards of God.
Right now, in the southwestern state of New Mexico, Augustine’s proposition is yet again being put to the test.
As the Standing for Freedom Center reported, on September 7, “New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham, D, declared gun violence a public health emergency and issued an executive order suspending the right of New Mexico citizens to open or conceal carry a gun in public places.”
Her move is a shocking act of executive overreach, to put it mildly. To put it more frankly, her declaration that “gun violence” constitutes a “public health emergency” under which she believes she has the right to suspend the Constitution itself is tyrannical in the extreme.
Her defense of this radical act sparked even more outrage. Grisham argued that she has the authority to impose restrictions on gun rights, stating that:
“If there’s an emergency and I’ve declared an emergency for a temporary amount of time, I can invoke additional powers. No constitutional right, in my view, including my oath, is intended to be absolute. There are restrictions on free speech. There are restrictions on my freedoms.”
Re-read that: “No constitutional right [in her view] is intended to be absolute.”
As horrifying and unconstitutional as that statement is, we can at least find a modicum of gratitude in her honesty — that she said the “quiet part out loud.”
And what does that quiet part really mean? It means that she views herself as the unchecked, unparalleled sovereign over the citizens of New Mexico and that their constitutional rights are mere suggestions that she can suspend whenever she sees fit.
This flies in the face of the Second Amendment itself, which guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
It also blatantly ignores the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in New York State Pistol and Rifle Assn v. Bruen, which affirmed that “ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a similar right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense. We too agree, and now hold, consistent with Heller and McDonald, that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
This power grab has been met with swift pushback from all across the political spectrum. Even the most aggressive gun control advocates criticized the governor’s take on this, including David Hogg, who responded that while he supports gun safety, “there is no such thing as a state public health emergency exception to the U.S. Constitution.”
Elon Musk reacted by posting, “At risk of stating what should be obvious, deliberately violating the Constitution is next-level illegal. How soon can this person be removed from office?”
More interesting than either of these public statements from individuals who are not associated with conservative Christians, however, is that local sheriffs have already announced that they will refuse to enforce the order. Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen held a press conference in which he unequivocally stated that he won’t take part in the governor’s Constitution-shredding charade:
“Let me be clear. I hold my standards high and I do not nor ever will hedge on what is right. And I take my oath seriously. In reference to concealed carry and open carry, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office will not enforce this segment of the order. The temporary ban challenges the foundations of our Constitution, but most importantly it is unconstitutional.
My oath was to protect the Constitution and this is what I will do…My job is to keep the peace and to make sure that the citizens of Bernalillo County are safe and I do not believe this order will help me do so. I am a law enforcement professional. This law will not do anything to curb gun violence other than punish law-abiding citizens for a constitutional right to self-defense.
I have a fact for you: Criminals do not follow the law or a public health order. Never seen it. We will never see criminals follow the law. Once again, this only punishes law-abiding citizens.”
The citizens of New Mexico are refusing to take this abrogation of their rights lying down, either. Briana Lyman at the Daily Caller reported that “New Mexico gun owners sent a peaceful but powerful message Sunday to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham by openly carrying their firearms after Grisham placed a 30-day ban on their Second Amendment rights.”
Thus, in the “Land of Enchantment,” we have a showdown of competing sovereignties. It’s the governor versus the Constitution, the sheriffs, and the people. Who will prevail?
The United States became one of the most powerful and free nations in the history of the world because it vested the powers of state not within a monarch, but the people.
As Christians, when we consider what it means to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22) or submit to the governing authorities as instituted by God (Romans 13), we must always remember that “We the People” are the final governing authority in the United States and our rights — our God-given rights — are enshrined in the Constitution, the highest law of the land.
Furthermore, we must always remember that if the government can break the law or suspend our constitutional rights in the case of an emergency, it will create emergencies to break the law — which is exactly what Gov. Grisham has done.
The eyes of the nation are now on New Mexico. Which sovereign will prevail in this battle of law, rights, and freedom? The future of the Second Amendment — and thus the entirety of our Bill of Rights — rests on the outcome.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and politics? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page, where we’ve published several long-form pieces to help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.