Federal judge strikes down BR gun ordinance

Updated at 7:55 p.m. — A city-parish ordinance that prohibits residents from keeping firearms in their parked cars while they’re inside establishments that sell alcohol is unconstitutional and can no longer be enforced, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson found the ordinance runs afoul of the Second Amendment.

Ernest Taylor, of Baton Rouge, challenged the ordinance — 13:95.3 — in federal district court in September after he was pulled over in October 2012 while leaving Romeo’s Old School Lounge on Plank Road because he didn’t have his headlights on.

Taylor was arrested after three rifles were found in his car. He was booked on, among other things, possession of a firearm where alcohol is sold. The rifles were confiscated by Baton Rouge police.

Taylor, who had no prior felony convictions, alleged the ordinance conflicts with a 2008 Louisiana law that permits firearms in locked vehicles in “any parking lot, parking garage or other designated parking area.”

Jackson said the city ordinance clearly forbids the possession of firearms in any parking lot of an establishment that sells alcohol.

“Thus, any law-abiding citizen who exercises his or her right to keep or bear arms within the confines of his or her personal vehicle will violate 13:95.3 anytime he or she, for example, stops to refuel a vehicle at a service station that sells alcohol, or stops to purchase groceries at a grocery store that sells alcohol,” the judge wrote.

“Similarly, the ordinance prohibits law-abiding citizens from purchasing and possessing firearms at any establishment that sells alcohol, thereby rendering the sale of firearms at establishments like Wal-Mart a criminal act,” he said.

Bar and liquor store owners in Baton Rouge decried the ruling Wednesday, using the old adage that guns and alcohol do not mix.

“I just don’t see any way that it’s going to be a positive,” said Marc Fraioli, owner of Fred’s Bar in Tigerland. “It’s just going to increase bad things happening.”

Next door at Reggie’s Bar, owner Darin Adams felt the same way.

“You’re just creating problems,” Adams said.

Jackson noted that a lawyer at the East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney’s Office drafted an email June 24 to Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie suggesting the chief no longer enforce the ordinance because it “may have some constitutional problems.”

The judge also said members of the Parish Attorney’s Office appeared before the Metro Council on June 25 and requested the panel repeal the ordinance because it is a “mistake, and it should be corrected.”

Jackson said the ordinance unlawfully infringes on the constitutional right of Taylor and other citizens to keep and bear firearms, and he permanently enjoined its enforcement.

The judge scheduled a hearing Oct. 23 to determine the amount of monetary damages to which Taylor is entitled.

Tedrick Knightshead, an assistant parish attorney who represents the city, Dabadie and other defendants in the case, declined comment Monday.

Terrence “Joe” Donahue Jr., who represents Taylor, hailed Jackson’s ruling as a victory for the residents of Baton Rouge because it makes clear that even persons charged with enforcing the law or those charged with bringing criminal prosecutions cannot ignore the civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

“By declaring the ordinance unconstitutional, and enjoining the city from using it in the future, the court has prevented the city from further depriving the citizens of their fundamental rights for engaging in behavior that is constitutionally protected,” Donahue said.

Taylor’s guns were returned to him in June, he noted.

In May, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law House Bill 72, which resolved a conflict between the state’s concealed carry law and a separate criminal statute to clarify that concealed-handgun permit holders and armed off-duty police officers can enter restaurants that serve alcohol.

Existing law regulating gun possession in places serving alcohol already exempted the establishment’s owner and employees and on-duty police officers. A separate law regulating concealed-handgun permits says permit holders can bear arms in restaurants serving alcohol. HB72, which the governor signed into law in late May, extends the exemption in the law to off-duty officers. That look took effect Aug. 1.

Permit holders still are barred from carrying guns into bars.

At Tigerland Market on Nicholson Drive on Monday afternoon, owner Raj Parakh said the ruling could put him and other liquor store owners in more danger of someone walking into the store, checking out the layout, walking back to a vehicle, returning to the store and robbing the place.

With most of his clientele being college students, Parakh said he does not worry that much about crime at his store.

“That should be OK,” Parakh said of guns being allowed in the parking lot. “But I would prefer that not to happen.”

One business near LSU that has seen parking lot gun violence in the past is the Mellow Mushroom restaurant on Burbank Drive.

Shots were fired in the parking lot three years ago, and two years ago, someone pulled a gun on another person, leading management to bring in off-duty Baton Rouge police for security, manager Ericka Volpe said.

Now, the customers are more subdued, Volpe said, but the ruling could lead to more incidents in establishments that sell alcohol.

“I don’t see it being good,” she said.

However, Volpe did see one good thing that may come from the ruling: Allowing guns in the lots could deter some predators from attacking women in dark parking lots.

Henry Thompson, owner of the Hot Spot Lounge on Scenic Highway, said it does not matter to him if his customers, many of whom he has known for several years, have guns in their vehicles in the parking lot as long as they do not bring the guns into his business.

In fact, he was sure some of the dozen vehicles in the lot outside his business had guns in them Monday afternoon.

“I can’t control what people do in the parking lot,” Thompson said. “The only thing I can control is what comes through those doors.”