Louisiana last week moved one step closer to tweaking gun owners' rights in its constitution. Earlier this month, members of the state House Committee on Criminal Justice engaged in a heated debate over a controversial bill that would amend the state constitution to make "denial, infringement, or restriction" of the Second Amendment right to "acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for defense of life and property" subject to "strict scrutiny" in the courts. If approved by voters, the highest standard of judicial review and the strongest legal protection typically reserved for fundamental human rights would apply to gun ownership.
The bill passed through that committee by a 9-5 vote. Last Thursday, May 24, Sen. Neil Riser's Senate Bill 303 passed in the full House by a 77-22 vote. It now goes back to the Senate for final concurrence in House amendments before appearing on the statewide ballot in November.
Riser argued that the bill, which is backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gov. Bobby Jindal, would make Louisiana's Second Amendment rights "the strongest in the nation." Its opponents, however, fear the bill will open the door to litigation that could declare the state's 80-plus gun laws unconstitutional. Under a "strict scrutiny" standard, the government must prove a "compelling state interest" to restrict the right to bear arms. That means already designated "gun-free" zones, like schools and churches, would potentially be targets of litigation.
Currently the state allows for the passage of laws to prohibit concealed weapons in certain places. Riser's bill removes that language. The Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), a good-government watchdog, rallied against the bill, as did statewide district attorneys, including Orleans Parish D.A. Leon Cannizzaro.
At last week's vote, State Rep. Terry Landry, a former head of the Louisiana State Police, said, "This is about an NRA agenda" that "uses Louisiana and its citizens, its legislature and legislators as a pawn in a bigger scheme." He added that there has "been no conversation" about the threat to the right to bear arms in the state until the bill's introduction.
"Where now is there a prohibition and restriction that you don't want?" Landry asked. A similar round of questions were aimed at Riser in committee hearings and met with similarly vague answers about preserving gun rights under future legislative bodies.
The House also struck down a provision that gives the Legislature explicit authority to limit concealed handguns. — Alex Woodward