Amendment would enable legal challenges
Louisiana would have the strongest gun rights law in the United States if proposed constitutional amendment No. 2 wins voter approval Nov. 6.
“The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right. It deserves the highest protection of law,” said state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, proposition sponsor. “This amendment reinforces Second Amendment rights” guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents counter that the change goes too far and would make it more difficult to regulate guns in Louisiana for the safety of the general public and law enforcement. Some 80-plus state laws, such as those limiting possession of concealed weapons, could be challenged as unconstitutionally too restrictive, they argue.
The Louisiana Constitution currently states: “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would alter the language to read: “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed. Any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Gone would be the constitution’s current reference to the Legislature’s ability to pass laws to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons. Proponents say the Legislature could still pass laws but they — as well as current laws — would have to meet the new “strict scrutiny” test.
The “strict scrutiny” legal standard would require courts, when asked, to determine whether the state’s gun laws demonstrate “a compelling governmental interest” and are “narrowly defined.” If not, they could be thrown out as unconstitutional.
Louisiana would become the first state with a “strict scrutiny” standard.
Courts use a more lenient “rational basis” test, which proponents of the constitutional change contend is not enough to protect gun rights.
The National Rifle Association-pushed change won overwhelming legislative support during the 2012 Legislature, far more than the two-thirds vote required to send propositions to the ballot. The Senate voted 34-4, with one senator not voting. House approval came on a 77-22 vote with six representatives not voting.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action is campaigning for the gun rights measure, sending out emails, distributing “fact sheets” to its members and providing bumper stickers and yard signs.
Riser said the group plans some radio spots in advance of the election. He said he has done a mailout in his senatorial district.
The Republican Party of Louisiana has also endorsed the change.
Opposing the proposed change are the Council for a Better Louisiana, based in Baton Rouge, and the Bureau of Governmental Research, in New Orleans.
The two business-backed groups monitor, research and take positions on governmental issues. CABL officials lobby during legislative sessions.
The National Rifle Association claims Louisiana’s current right to keep and bear arms is “defective” because it allows the passage of laws that prohibit carrying a concealed weapon.
“Further, the Louisiana Supreme Court has said that the right may be restricted if a majority in the legislature thinks it ‘reasonable’ to do so. When it comes to rights, the standard for restrictions must be higher,” that is strict scrutiny, according to the NRA.
Proposition supporter state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have narrowly struck down gun-control measures in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. That gives urgency to the state passing a strong constitutional statement on where it stands on the Second Amendment, he said.
The state Democratic Party’s website includes a message from state Rep. Terry Landry, who once served as commander of the Louisiana State Police. He opposes the amendment’s passage.
“This proposed amendment will not make our homes more secure, our streets safer, nor bring our crime rates down. In fact, it will likely work against all of those,” wrote Landry, D-New Iberia. He noted that Louisiana — an “open carry” state — is already recognized as having among the least restrictive gun laws in the country.
Riser said Arizona and Alaska are watching Louisiana’s vote with an eye on similar action.
The proposition attracted legislative objections from prosecutors and educators, fearful of courts throwing out existing laws, including those aimed at protecting colleges from gun-related violence. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association initially opposed the legislation, then took no stance after the proposition was revised to make it more specific in its intent.
In its opposition paper, CABL stated Louisiana is recognized by “national groups on both the right and left as one of the states where gun rights have some of the greatest protections.”
CABL commented that it was concerned about the potential impact on the ban on carrying firearms in currently gun-free school zones, such as college campuses.
“CABL does not believe that there is any danger that this or any future Legislature will ever pass an overly restrictive gun law that citizens would not support,” according to the group’s report.
Riser said today’s Legislature is pro-gun rights as demonstrated by its overwhelming support of the proposed constitutional amendment. “This is for the future. We don’t know what future legislative bodies might do,” Riser said.
BGR noted opponents argument that the change would “open the door to lawsuits that could nullify many of the state’s gun restrictions, including the permit requirement to carry a concealed weapon and bans on guns in bars and schools.” Weakened gun laws would also exacerbate the state’s chronic gun violence problem.
“By imposing a stricter standard of judicial review, the proposed amendment would make it more difficult to regulate guns in Louisiana,” BGR wrote in its opposition paper.
“Furthermore, by specifically eliminating the Legislature’s authority to limit concealed weapons, the amendment sends a message to the courts to strike down common-sense requirements for concealed weapons permits. This would expose the public to unnecessary risks and hamper law enforcement efforts.”
Riser said the Supreme Court already said the mentally ill and felons do not have the right to keep and bear arms.
“As far as public buildings, universities, school grounds, the courts will consider them sensitive areas. They would easily be upheld with strict scrutiny,” he said.