When the Legislature and voters enacted a new constitutional amendment on gun possession in 2012, we were opposed. The new language sets up a tougher “strict scrutiny” standard for judicial review of gun laws, even the most sensible of restrictions.
Given the enthusiasm of gun-rights activists, the new language sailed through the political process.
Fortunately, though, now that a sensible gun law has been challenged in the courts, the Louisiana Supreme Court has reached the reasonable conclusion that “strict scrutiny” should not be read as “never, no way.”
In an opinion written by Justice Marcus Clark, the court rejected a challenge to the state ban on possession of concealed handguns by juveniles.
Clark said the 2012 amendment does not prohibit sensible firearms regulation and that “common sense, science and social science” all hold that possession of a handgun by a juvenile can be dangerous to the public.
The decision came in the case of a juvenile identified only as J.M., who cited the amendment in arguing the state could not judge him delinquent because he possessed a handgun in violation of state law.
J.M. had challenged two state statutes dealing with intentional concealment of a handgun and possession of a concealed handgun by juveniles. Among his attorneys’ arguments: The 2012 amendment did away with constitutional language that expressly allowed the state to enact laws dealing with concealed weapons.
But that doesn’t mean the Legislature’s ability to restrict concealed weapons went away, Clark’s opinion said, citing the language in the new amendment itself, which reads in part: “Any restriction of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
That, said the opinion, means “any restriction on the right to keep and bear arms, including those laws regarding the carrying of concealed weapons, must pass the requirements of strict scrutiny. There is no limitation on the phrase ‘any restriction.’ ”
This is a sensible decision and we commend the court for it. But we also note that the 2012 amendment set up this situation, in which a potentially dangerous juvenile delinquent could challenge what is an eminently sensible law.
The removal of what should be legislative questions to the judicial arena is one of the problems with the 2012 amendment. A different court in a different case might well rule differently in the future, overturning the judgment of the people through the Legislature.