Loupe pulls proposal to ban guns at City Hall

In a state with some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation, the Metro Council had been scheduled Wednesday to discuss whether firearms should be banned from City Hall.

But the sponsor, Councilman Chandler Loupe, said late Tuesday that the measure has been deleted from the agenda, offering no explanation for why or whether it will be considered at a later date.

The proposal would prohibit anyone except law enforcement from possessing firearms or other weapons inside City Hall, the public building on St. Louis Street that houses the offices of the Metro Council, the mayor-president and the district attorney, in addition to other governmental offices. If passed, it could also spark a legal challenge, as a 2012 constitutional amendment affirming Louisianans’ fundamental right to bear arms has repeatedly spurred lawsuits against restrictions on carrying guns.

Loupe, in an email earlier this month, said the idea wasn’t prompted by any specific incidents.

Rather, it is a “common sense” idea, he said.

An assistant parish attorney familiar with the proposal described it as a housekeeping measure partly meant to clear up confusing language in the city’s laws since the courthouse moved from City Hall to the sleek new 19th Judicial District Courthouse across the street.

The ordinance at issue bans guns only “within courtroom designated areas.” So while the law spells out that it’s illegal to possess a firearm in some areas of the building formerly occupied by courtrooms, it’s unclear whether the law still applies because courtrooms are no longer there, said Ashley Beck, the assistant parish attorney.

Loupe’s proposal would clearly prohibit the possession of firearms or other weapons on every floor of the City Hall building, also described as the East Baton Rouge Parish Governmental Building.

At least one council member, a self-described strong supporter of gun rights, criticized the measure.

“I would be opposed to this,” Councilman Buddy Amoroso said.

The councilman said the ban on guns would force the city-parish to make drastic changes in security at the building, such as installing metal detectors, to ensure the law was being enforced.

Under state law, “political subdivisions,” including cities and parishes, have the power to prohibit the possession of weapons or firearms in certain commercial establishments and public buildings.

However, in this case, doing so could invite a lawsuit rooted in the decision by voters in 2012 to amend the state’s constitution to affirm Louisiana’s support of gun rights, which placed the right to possess guns on the same level as the right to freedom of speech and due process.

Since then, defense attorneys have made several unsuccessful bids to challenge some long-standing gun laws, such as the one barring felons from possessing firearms, claiming the amendment essentially made those laws unconstitutional.

Thus far, every challenge has failed. In the case challenging the constitutionality of the law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms, a Supreme Court justice wrote in an opinion, “Such laws are effective, time-tested and easily understandable, and do not violate the constitution.” The justice added, “Common sense and the public safety allow no other result.”

However, at least one defense attorney who has already made two unsuccessful bids to challenge the constitutionality of gun laws believes there would be room to challenge a new ordinance banning the possession of guns inside City Hall.

“The city would have to show why City Hall, particularly, has a special need to prohibit the carrying of firearms versus other places,” said Colin Reingold, litigation director at the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office.

A challenge also could force the high court to directly address whether the amended constitution has more influence over laws or ordinances adopted after the amendment was passed.

“This would raise the interesting question of whether new statutes or ordinances also pass that standard,” Reingold said.

Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report. Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.