With the passing of Senate Bill 303 in the state House of Representatives, Louisiana has just set the stage for gaining some of the strongest protections for firearms rights in the country. The bill, introduced by Senator Neil Riser (R – Columbia) would amend the state constitution to delete language that allows the “passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person” and give stronger legal protections to firearm owners.
The current version of Louisiana’s constitution does indeed grant each citizen the right to keep and bear arms, stating plainly that “this right shall not be abridged.” However, the aforementioned language concerning the possibility of future restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms has many worried that an overzealous anti-gun lawmaker could use the provision to effectively gut citizens’ second amendment rights. The NRA-ILA puts the need for SB 303 this way: “This amendment is necessary because the Louisiana Supreme Court eviscerated the current right to keep and bears arms provision in 2001, action which has left Louisianans with little protection from overreaching state-imposed gun control or in the event the Heller or McDonald cases are overturned.”
So, what does SB 303 do exactly? Besides just preventing easy restrictions on concealed carry, it actually upgrades the status of Second Amendment Rights, stating:
“The right of individuals to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for defense of life and liberty, and for all other legitimate purposes is fundamental and shall not be denied or infringed, and any restriction on this right must be subjected to strict scrutiny.”
By classifying the use of arms as a fundamental right, revocable only after strict scrutiny, means that second amendment rights will be given the state’s highest level of legal protection, the same given to rights such as life and free speech. For a right that is so often treated as a second-class citizen compared to others in the constitution, this is a huge breakthrough. It’s little wonder then that SB 303 already passed the Senate 31 to 6 in April, passed the House 77 to 22 on Thursday, and has the support of Governor Bobby Jindal.
While support for the bill has been strong, arguments against it have ranged from stating that there is no need for such a drastic protection to worrying that the language of the bill might allow concealed carry into churches, bars, and other currently restricted areas as the state constitution trumps local laws. Riser quashed these allegations in a written statement, saying:
“The new, stronger amendment would not allow felons or the mentally ill to obtain firearms. Felons and other dangerous people are already forbidden to possess firearms under federal law. The proposed amendment would not allow people to carry firearms into public or private schools or other sensitive places. Those kinds of restrictions have been upheld by the courts, and they would continue to be upheld under the new amendment.”
An interaction between Rep. Katrina Jackson (D – Monroe) and Rep. Chris Broadwater (R – Hammond) reported in the Louisiana Gannett News captured what seemed to be the prevailing nature of debate over the bill:
“Jackson asked Broadwater ‘What’s so important about this right that makes it more important than other rights? What’s the imminent danger that suggests to this body that we should change our constitution?’
‘There is a trend for some to view this as less than a fundamental right,’ Broadwater answered.”
The bill now has to head back to the Senate for final approval before it can appear on Louisiana voters’ ballots in the fall.
The text of the bill can be found here.