As of Thursday last week, 35 of the 98 law enforcement officers killed nationally in the line of duty this year were shot to death, according to the preliminary statistics gathered by the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, D.C.
Over the past decade, 570 of the 1,559 law enforcement deaths were caused by firearms, which is more than any other cause, the statistics show.
The number of gun-related police deaths led Terry Landry, former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, to oppose Constitutional Amendment No. 2, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Amendment 2 could lead to more policemen dying, said state Rep. Landry, D-New Iberia.
Amendment 2 could overturn laws designed to help ensure that concealed guns are kept out of many volatile situations, he said. It’s the police who are called when people waving guns get out of control, Landry said.
That doesn’t include mass shootings that now seem to occur every few weeks.
“These shootings are carried out by people with mental problems, grudges against society, or because for a few minutes it gives them a feeling of power. Our current laws afford these people access to guns,” Landry said. “Amendment 2 would tip things even further out of balance.”
Landry made similar arguments during the legislative session. But the Louisiana House and state Senate overwhelmingly voted to support the bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Republican Party of Louisiana support passage of Amendment 2.
If approved by a majority of the state’s voters, the amendment would require the most-stringent standard of judicial review, called “strict scrutiny,” when considering the legality of gun-control laws. Generally, that means the state would have to prove that a law restricting the right to bear arms is of “a compelling interest,” and is “narrowly tailored” in a way to impact as few people as possible.
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action argues that had one justice voted the other way in a couple of 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decisions, then gun rights would have been curtailed. The change of a single justice could lead to decisions with which the NRA disagrees.
“If that were to happen, gun rights advocates want to have constitutional language in place at the state level that would unequivocally express the principle in Louisiana that possessing a weapon is a fundamental right,” according to an analysis by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a Baton Rouge-based government policy research group funded by individual memberships.
So, what does that mean?
The Council for A Better Louisiana, better known as CABL, says “strict scrutiny” would allow legal challenges to state laws that, for instance, prohibit carrying firearms into bars or at Mardi Gras parades, or into churches. CABL is a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit group, whose directors are professionals and officers in large businesses. It lobbies state government on policy issues.
“One could foresee a situation where a student or someone else charged with carrying a firearm on a college campus could challenge the constitutionality of the gun-free campus restriction, thus leaving it to the courts to decide under a new and much-higher standard of scrutiny if our current law is too restrictive,” CABL wrote last week in its opposition to Amendment 2. “CABL feels strongly, in agreement with our universities, that the combination of guns and still-maturing students is not a good mix.”
Interestingly, police officers and their representatives were quiet during the debate before the Louisiana Legislature and have been since. Individual policemen and state troopers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans — while loquacious on this and many subjects — refuse to be identified commenting publicly.
Chris Nassif said the Louisiana Union of Police Associations has no position on Amendment 2. “Though we support the right of citizens to legally keep and bear arms, we strongly oppose any legislation to weaken our current concealed carry weapons law,” said Nassif, the union’s president and an officer with the Alexandria Police Department.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved