Senate OKs gun rights bills

An effort to bar enforcement of federal laws banning or restricting semiautomatic firearms in Louisiana stalled Tuesday.

With state senators challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 5, state Sen. Rick Ward opted to delay a vote on the House-passed measure.

“There are a few things I have been made aware of to try to make this a better bill,” said Ward, D-Maringouin, as he put off a vote.

With that, the Louisiana Senate moved on to other gun bills on what Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, called “John Wayne day.”

The state Senate quickly — and overwhelmingly — approved bills that would penalize publication or other dissemination of information on concealed weapons permit holders; provide for a lifetime concealed weapons permit; and allow federal and state law enforcement officers to have guns on school campuses.

The Senate vote was final legislative approval of the lifetime concealed weapons permit legislation, House Bill 265 sponsored by state Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central. The others return to the House for approval of Senate changes.

The House on April 23 had passed the state gun rights House Bill 5 on a 67-25 vote. The same questions raised by House opponents came up again Tuesday in the state Senate debate.

“How do we say we are not subject to federal law?” state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Ward, who handled the bill for House sponsor Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City.

“I thought we fought this war 150 years or so ago,” Murray continued.

“Sometimes the federal government can go a little bit overboard and sometimes we need to push back and represent the people of Louisiana,” Ward said.

Ward said passage of the bill might give federal agents a “second thought about enforcing.”

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the legislation is “on shaky ground. We have already tried this concept of leaving the union.”

Claitor proposed making the prohibition apply starting April 30, 1812, when Louisiana became a state instead of the Jan. 1, 2013, effective date. He said he sought the amendment “to highlight its unconstitutionality.”

“I believe in gun rights. I believe it will be handled the way it should be in the constitution,” Claitor said.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said the federal government also realizes that there are “states’ rights ... We have a right to bear arms.”

State Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, said he owns a lot of guns, one of them an assault weapon. He suggested that a vote be delayed “to work out some of these constitutional issues.”

The Senate adopted an amendment that would stop private lawyers from being hired to defend constitutional challenges to the legislation. State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the state cannot afford the outside legal expense that will be required as the legislation’s constitutionality is challenged.

The attorney general would have to handle any defense under the change.

“We should act in the best interest of the people of this state. We should not act to get an A-plus rating from the NRA,” said state Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, referring to the National Rifle Association.

The Senate approved:

House Bill 8 which would establish criminal penalties for publication or otherwise publicly releasing information regarding concealed handgun permits and applications. The bill would establish a penalty of a $10,000 fine and up to six months in jail or both. Claitor unsuccessfully tried to reduce the penalty.

The Senate added two exceptions for release of the data, then voted 33-2 for the measure. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, returns to the House for concurrence in changes.

House Bill 265 provide for a lifetime concealed weapons permit which would cost $500. Currently a permit holder must file application renewals every five years and pay $125. Under the bill, the permit holder would still have to meet every five-year training and education requirements. The Senate vote was 34-3.

House Bill 6 would allow off-duty law enforcement to carry weapons on school campuses. The Senate tightened the language to better define those allowed under the law and shipped it to the House on a 34-2 vote.