GOP faces choice between cops, gun rights advocates on concealed carry bill

Image courtesy Visit Baton Rouge

The Senate advanced a bill Tuesday pushed by Second Amendment advocates to remove the existing requirement for a training class to carry a concealed handgun, but some law enforcement officials in Louisiana are pushing back.

The bill, SB118 by Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, forces Republican lawmakers to choose between two core constituencies, gun rights advocates and police officers. So far, in Louisiana, the advocates seem to be winning out.

The bill passed by a veto-proof 27-11. Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and Sen. Bob Hensgens, whose District 26 overlaps Lafayette and Vermilion parishes, both Republicans, voted for it. Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, voted against it.

SB118 strikes through the existing language in Revised Statute 40:1379 that says a Louisiana resident “shall be required to possess a valid concealed handgun permit issued by the state of Louisiana.”

Morris had it amended on the floor to change “Louisiana resident” to “any person.”

The bill’s supporters beat back an amendment to water it down, and another that would cynically title the law the “Thoughts and Prayers Act.” 

“No one from law enforcement has contacted me on SB118 this session,” Hensgens tells The Current in an emailed response. “Even if they did I intend to support the bill!”

Under Morris’ bill, often referred to as “constitutional carry,” a person would be required only to be 21 years old and “not prohibited from possessing a firearm” by state or federal law. It would still be illegal to carry a concealed weapon under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and it still requires a carrier to announce it if approached by a police officer.

Tuesday’s vote revealed not just a partisan but a racial divide on the bill. All 11 senators voting against it were Black Democrats. Black Louisianans were killed by firearms in 2019 at more than double the per capita rate of white people, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And law enforcement officials raised the specter of increased gun violence in a state that had the sixth highest rate of gun deaths in 2019.

Fabian Blache Jr., executive director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police in Baton Rouge, testified last week against the bill when it came before the Senate Judiciary C Committee.

“The bottom line is, we’re not opposed to concealed carry,” Blache told the committee. “We’re opposed to concealed carry without education and without training. What is not being taken into consideration, you’ve got to think about the fact that you’ve got these urban areas, where you’ve got these 21-year-olds. When you put the word out that a 21-year-old can carry as long as he doesn’t have a record, that’s the only thing they’re going to hear. You’re going to have these urban areas, and all these 21-year-olds, and now they’re all packing. This is something that law enforcement really has to fear. We already have a gun problem in this country.”

Shaun Ferguson, superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, also issued a statement last week that was submitted to the committee and read into the record. 

“We strongly oppose any legislation that would create the potential for what could be thousands of untrained individuals bringing weapons to the streets of the City of New Orleans,” Ferguson wrote. “A very dangerous situation could develop resulting in needless injury and death to our citizens and visitors.”

Closer to home, Lafayette’s top law enforcement officials have been tight-lipped on the bill.

“Our position on this is that it’s not our job to make laws but to make sure they’re constitutional,” Capt. John Mowell, a spokesman for Sheriff Mark Garber, tells The Current. “It’s our job to enforce the laws.”

Asked for his take, Lafayette Police Chief Thomas Glover told The Current through his secretary, “The chief declines the request for a comment.” 

Michael Renatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, did not respond to requests for his position.  

An almost identical measure is currently hung up in the Texas Senate precisely because of qualms by some Republicans. HB1927 sailed through the GOP-controlled Texas House, but Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and assigns bills to committee, said last week he supports the bill but that it lacks the necessary two thirds of the 31-member Senate to bring it to the floor. It would need all 18 Republicans, which is currently not lined up, and three Democrats. 

Texas law enforcement officials opposed the bill in the House. Seven House Democrats voted for it; it passed 87-58.

Patrick has pulled a parliamentary sleight of hand by creating a new committee, called the Special Committee on Constitutional Issues, to hear the bill next week, and he packed it with friendly senators. But that still won’t guarantee the votes to bring it to the floor. 

Pro-gun groups like the NRA and the Louisiana Shooters Association argue that requiring a permit or license to carry a concealed handgun violates the Second Amendment, and that the costs of taking a required class pose an onerous financial burden. In Louisiana, permits range from $225 to $325 for nine hours of training. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that limitations on gun rights like licensure requirements or even prohibitions on concealed carry are constitutional, reaffirming that position in District of Columbia v. Heller. 

“This bill will not embolden criminals,” Morris told Senate Judiciary-C last week. “Criminals are already emboldened.”

Morris said 20 states have constitutional carry and that Louisiana and five others are now considering it. He contended Arizona has had permitless carry without any increase in crime and that “Vermont has had it since 1790.” The committee reported it favorably to the Senate 5-3 on a strict party-line — and racial — vote. One of the no votes was Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, who was just elected to Congress in Saturday’s special election.

The bill now goes to the House, where it is likely to see the same partisan and racial divide. 

“It’s a terrible idea that you don’t provide training,” Rep. Vincent Pierre, a Democrat who represents Lafayette’s predominantly Black District 44, tells The Current. “People need to know how to operate a weapon, especially with the mass murders we’re having.”

“Currently in Louisiana you can open-carry now without a permit; this bill is just a matter of concealing a firearm or not,” says Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro. “I don’t know of any legislator who thinks you shouldn’t have some kind of training, but it’s a matter of whether the government should require payment and licensure to exercise your constitutional rights.”