Efforts to ban certain guns and ammunition sales may be pushed, but they will get nowhere in the Louisiana legislative session that opens in April, according to the chairmen of committees that will hear the legislation.
Louisiana voters last fall approved an amendment to the state constitution that gives the state the strongest gun laws in the nation. It subjects any laws attempting to infringe on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to keep and bear arms to a “strict scrutiny” test. The legal standard would require courts, when asked, to determine whether the state’s gun laws demonstrate “a compelling governmental interest” and are “narrowly defined.”
State Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-West Monroe, and state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie , said that gives a strong hint where Louisiana and the Legislature is in the gun-control debate.
“I don’t see any restrictions coming out. It doesn’t mean there won’t be members who try,” said Lopinto, who heads the Louisiana House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.
“Some people will say ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do that.’ Just to get headlines,” said Kostelka, chair of the state Senate Judiciary “C” Committee, which handles criminal law issues and likely would review any gun control legislation. “I don’t see any movement for anybody to do anything in the Legislature.”
Kostelka said in efforts to restrict guns “you are blaming the gun and not the use of the gun by a person.”
So far, there’s been little conversation about changing Louisiana’s gun laws since the Connecticut school massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead at the hands of Adam Lanza, who was believed to have mental-health problems. Lanza is alleged to have killed his mother before heading to the school and carrying out the deadly rampage. Lanza later took his own life.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said she’ll propose legislation aimed at forcing people to lock up their guns when they are not at home. A House special committee has been looking at improved security at schools.
Gov. Bobby Jindal wants legislators to pass a law requiring courts to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when people have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions, the governor announced in a press release on Jan. 11. Jindal’s proposal has not been reduced to writing in the form of legislation.
The national database, which holds more than 7.3 million records, is aimed at preventing potential gun buyers with criminal histories or severe mental illnesses from purchasing firearms. But the database is weak, critics say.
State governments have made little effort to turn over the records to the federal database because of privacy concerns, confusion and difficulties converting paper records into an electronic format, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
President Barack Obama targeted upgrades to the national database in the executive actions he took in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting.
Obama and gun-control advocates say the system’s biggest problem is that only federally licensed gun dealers, and not private transactions such as those that occur at gun shows, are legally required to check buyers’ names against the database before selling a firearm. The private transactions amount to about 40 percent of gun sales.
“Even if these type of laws were in place it wouldn’t have prevented the incidents that have happened,” said Lopinto, a lawyer and former law enforcement officer. For instance, Lanza, in the Connecticut incident, had not been deemed mentally ill and the guns he used were bought by his mother.
“If someone’s Second Amendment right is going to be taken away, it should be done legally, not medically,” Lopinto said.
State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, said, “We are setting people up, giving them a false sense of security.”
A former State Police commander, who is on Lopinto’s committee, Landry said there are a lot of people who are mentally ill who have never seen a psychiatrist or any other mental-health professional.
“The cracks is too big, too many people falling through,” Landry said, adding that he thinks gun control is not the answer. “We really need to have a real conversation about violence in our communities, a real conversation about mental-health access, a real conversation about our political discourse and how we handle our disagreements.”
State Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, said he doesn’t know whether the reporting would be effective because the screening doesn’t apply to sales at gun show or private sales. Honoré is another legislative committee member who is retired law enforcement officer.
Honoré said he believes in the Second Amendment “but I don’t believe it’s necessary for you to own an automatic weapon. I’m a gun owner myself and carried one for years for a living. It’s only meant for killing something.”
Honoré said he would like to see movement toward stopping gun sales to the mentally ill.
“Law enforcement should be able to know that this guy has some instability,” Honoré said. “I’m opposed to a person ruled incompetent or mentally incompetent being able to buy a gun.”
House Criminal Justice Committee vice chair Helena Moreno said she expects to see some movement on legislation dealing with the mentally ill and guns.
“At the end of the day it all comes down to additional treatment and access to treatment,” said Moreno, D-New Orleans. “In this state we have some issues with drastic cuts we have had to mental-health care.”
But Moreno said she expects to see a large number of bills going through her committee dealing with gun issues “from both ends of the spectrum.”
Moreno State Sen. Fred Mills, R-St Martinville, a member of Judiciary “C” said he’s seen no traction for gun law restrictions given passage of the constitutional amendment. “If you look at that amendment we did, I think you can almost bring your gun to church right now,” Mills said.