Senate votes against legislative guns in State Capitol

Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.

The Louisiana Senate voted 23-12 on Tuesday night against Senate Bill 651 that would have allowed state lawmakers to carry concealed handguns in the building.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said his proposal wasn’t a “cowboy bill,” and wasn’t about solving debates “with 10 paces and a pistol.” He described it as a personal protection measure.

“All I’m asking is that we have the right to protect ourselves in the manner that we see fit,” he told his colleagues.

The late-evening debate shifted between jokes and sincerity with opponents questioning the wisdom of armed lawmakers during heated discussions.

“The more and more I think about this I just don’t think it’s a prudent thing to do,” said Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales.

Allain asked him: “Are you worried about the mental stability of fellow members in this chamber?”

“I probably should be,” Amedee replied.

Currently, the State Capitol is a gun-free zone except for the state troopers who provide security inside. Public entrances warn that “dangerous weapons” are prohibited, and people who enter the building without security badges must pass through metal detectors.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said the Legislature has paid security on site and she didn’t understand the need for Allain’s bill.

“We have security around this chamber. What are we going to be able to contribute?” Peterson said. “You’re telling me all these sergeants-at-arms can’t protect me? Then, why do we pay them?”

Allain said he’s seeking to extend to lawmakers the same rights to carry concealed weapons in the public buildings where they work that are extended to judges and district attorneys in Louisiana.

“The sergeants-at-arms and the security in this building are not with us all the time,” he said.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, opposed the bill and noted that former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long was fatally shot in a hallway not far from the Senate chamber where the bill was being debated.

“We have other things we can do to increase security without arming legislators,” he said. “Look to your left, right and in front of you and think, do you really want that person armed?”

Allain can try to revive the proposal again before the legislative session ends in June. He indicated he might do so, prompting Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, to quip: “He wishes another shot at it.”