Louisiana lawmakers pre-filed a dozen gun-related bills for the 2013 regular session. One requiring all gun permit holders to take a safety course failed, but bills to strengthen gun owners' rights and protections passed.
State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, authored a measure to prevent the media from publishing information about concealed-weapon permit holders. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal last month.
On Nov. 2, 2012, more than 1.3 million Louisiana voters agreed that, under the state constitution, gun ownership is "a fundamental right under strict scrutiny of the court," and Amendment No. 2 passed. It was placed on the ballot after a vote during the 2012 legislative session and became known as Louisiana's "strict scrutiny gun law."
"Strict scrutiny" is the most stringent form of judicial review, one that courts apply when considering the constitutionality of a law that denies or impinges upon a fundamental individual right. In effect, the courts weigh the government's interest in enacting a restrictive law or policy against individuals' interests in not having their fundamental rights denied or abridged.
The "strict scrutiny test" requires the state to prove that a law under review meets a three-part test: first, that it furthers a "compelling governmental interest" (a term the courts have not specifically defined); second, that the law is "narrowly tailored" to achieve that interest; and third, that the law uses the "least restrictive means" to achieve that interest. If a law is deemed overly broad in its application, for example, it will fail the strict scrutiny test.
Strict scrutiny typically applies to human rights cases, where courts use the highest standard of judicial review. Louisiana thus has decided to make gun ownership a basic human right.
Critics feared the constitutional amendment could spawn legal challenges to longstanding (and widely accepted) gun restrictions, such as those banning firearms on school campuses and prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms.
Meanwhile, the Brady Campaign's 2013 "scorecard" on gun control ranked Louisiana the second-worst state in the nation in terms of laws to prevent gun violence. In an April 2013 report, The Center for American Progress (CAP) linked Louisiana's weak gun-control laws to its gun violence, which statistically tops all other states in the CAP ranking. Those rankings don't count for much in many parts of Louisiana, however.
As the 2013 legislative session began, a dozen bills were introduced, all promising to buttress Second Amendment rights. Some of those laws have raised eyebrows statewide and nationally. Effective Aug. 1, publishing any information about concealed-weapon permit holders or applicants will be a crime in the state of Louisiana. House Bill 8 — authored by state Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City — prevents newspapers and websites from publishing names and addresses of permit holders.
"It is a great day in Louisiana and across this nation for those of us who refuse to give an inch when it comes to defending our right to protect our families and we will stand strong in the defense of the Second Amendment," Thompson wrote on his Facebook page June 19. "Responsible, law-abiding citizens should not be villainized simply because they are concealed-carry permit holders."
Thompson filed the bill in response to a December 2012 article published in The Journal News, a New York state newspaper, which showed thousands of handgun permit holders as pins on a Google map. The permit holders' information was publicly available via Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Louisiana Press Association (LPA) and several statewide media outlets fought Thompson's bill. LPA Executive Director Pamela Mitchell told Gambit that the law is "blatantly unconstitutional," and the LPA will decide in August whether to challenge it.
"It was disturbing in the session to hear lawmakers say they want to protect Second Amendment rights over First Amendment rights," she said. "Its impact will depend on how it's enforced."
The National Rifle Association (NRA), which lobbied for Amendment No. 2 in last year's legislative session and sponsored an advertisement featuring former Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster supporting the amendment "no matter what happens in Washington," sent a congratulatory release following HB 8's passage this year and asked supporters to thank the legislators who voted for it.
Jacqueline Otto, public affairs spokeswoman for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), told Gambit that Thompson's bill "ensures [permit holders'] information remains confidential." Its goal, she said, is to prevent media outlets from publishing that information. The new law, however, does make an exception for people who committed a violent crime.
"People make the decision to carry a firearm for a variety of reasons. One of the most significant is for self-defense," Otto said. "These are law-abiding citizens who have done everything legally necessary ... and made this personal, private decision to use their Second Amendment right to protect themselves."
Otto said publishing their information puts them "at risk," adding, "That's totally unacceptable."
Mitchell, however, argues that there are cases where a media outlet can and should publish that information. Mitchell points to the 2012 shooting of Corey Kaufman, who was killed by a security guard outside a nightclub. The security guard said Kaufman drew a weapon, and the guard acted in self-defense. Whether either man had a permit — information that was previously accessible via a Freedom of Information Act request — could flesh out the story.
"[The law] sets a terrible precedent," Mitchell said. "What comes next?"
A dozen gun-related measures were pre-filed in the 2013 legislative session in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Most bills dealt with legislators' anticipated federal response to restrict Second Amendment rights. Several bills argued for stronger gun safety, but those measures failed.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, couldn't get the necessary support for her House Bill 4, which would require gun owners to lock up their weapons at home. The bill didn't make it past the House Criminal Justice Committee. Neither did House Bill 141 from State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, which would have required gun purchasers to register for gun safety classes.
A bill to "block" federal gun control stalled in the state Senate, and a Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans) killed a bill that would have allowed off-duty cops to bring their weapons into bars.
On June 20, Jindal signed Thompson's House Bill 8, as well as the lawmaker's House Bill 98, which allows sheriffs to enter into "reciprocity" agreements with sheriffs in adjacent parishes to issue concealed-handgun permits. Jindal also signed House Bill 6, from state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, allowing off-duty officers to carry firearms on school campuses, and Senate Bill 178 from state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, which gives permission to firearms retailers to offer voter registration forms at the point of sale.
Senate Bill 135, also by Riser, requires people who are denied the right to carry a firearm — including people with mental health issues — to be added to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System database.
"This legislation does not expand or create new categories of prohibited persons," the NRA-ILA stated in a June 20 press release. "Rather, it requires the submission of records of individuals who have been placed under certain types of mental health-related orders by a court — and are prohibited by current federal law from possessing firearms."
That law is effective Jan. 1, 2014.
The first piece of legislation Jindal signed into law during the session was the creation of a lifetime conceal-carry permit, which "further (cements) Louisiana as the Sportsman's Paradise and (protects) longstanding tradition," Jindal said June 20. Lifetime permit holders must attend gun safety training every five years.
"We really work with our members in the state, and work with elected officials in the state, to make sure we are doing our best to take care of our members, and what is going to do the most to protect those rights," the NRA's Otto told Gambit. "We're pleased and very thankful for Gov. Jindal and the representatives who put forward this legislation."
Riser introduced the "strict scrutiny" Second Amendment measure in the 2012 legislative session. The proposal was co-written by the NRA. Riser said the bill would give Louisiana the "strongest Second Amendment rights in the nation." At the time, State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, who is the former head of the Louisiana State Police, and other House Democrats asked Riser why Louisiana needed such a measure. Riser, who is known to be interested in running for Congress one day, said he wanted to ensure the Second Amendment's safety in all future legislative sessions.
Riser's bill faced near-unanimous Democratic opposition, as well as opposition from district attorneys from across the state, including Orleans Parish DA Leon Cannizzaro.
More than 70,000 people in Orleans Parish voted against the measure, while 68,000 voted in support. In Jefferson Parish, 106,498 people voted for the amendment, with 51,962 voting against.
A 2012 release from the NRA reads, "This proposed amendment will protect future generations from any legislative power grabs and rubber-stamping by future courts that would erode and undermine our rights. Its language is historic, and it will send a message nationwide that Louisiana stands in the forefront of states that will not tolerate infringements on our fundamental right to keep and bear arms."
That message reverberated through this year's legislative session.