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Louisiana House-passed gun carry bills head to Senate floor

Gun and Bible (Luvmissile/Pixabay)

A state Senate panel advanced Thursday a troika of bills that would limit local Louisiana governments from banning guns in many situations and would allow firearms into a church with the permission of the pastor but without having to notify the congregation.

Two of the three House-passed bills were okayed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with the sole Democrat voting no and the third bill was forwarded without dissent. The full Senate could vote to send the legislation to the governor’s desk before the Legislature adjourns at 6 p.m. Monday.

House Bill 334, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, would authorize a concealed handgun permit holder to carry a handgun in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other similar place of worship. Louisiana’s current law includes a disclosure provision that would be removed because supporters contend blunts the effectiveness by letting criminals know who has a gun.

Fontenot said pastors would still need to sign off on parishioners carrying weapons. But the proposed law would remove the requirement that the congregation be notified and that those with guns in church take eight additional hours in training above what is necessary to get the concealed carry permit.

It puts churches on same plane as businesses, Fontenot in that they have the right to forbid and would have to post a large sign saying, “No guns.”

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And that is one of the problems said Andrew Wilson, a New Orleans lawyer who also is legal chancellor to All Saints Episcopal Church of River Ridge.

“This is not a Walgreens, this is not a Whole Foods, this is a church. Guns in church are not a good idea,” says Wilson. “They make people afraid. People go to church for security.”

The Rev. John David Andrew, speaking on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, said HB334 creates confusion for churches, where guns would be allowed, attached to schools, where federal law forbids weapons.

The only Louisiana church shooting was in May 2006 at The Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in north Baton Rouge. The attack led to the death of five people, including the wife of the shooter.

The latest church shooting, on Dec. 29, 2019, took place at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, in which two people in the congregation were killed by a shooter who was angered that the pastor wouldn’t give him money. The church allowed concealed firearms and gunman was fatally shot.

House Bill 140, sponsored by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, would prevent local and parish authorities from imposing restrictions to prohibit the possession of a firearm.

The law Miguez seeks to change has been on the books since 1985 and gave local governments the flexibility to decide some gun restrictions on their own. New Orleans and Baton Rouge, for instance, forbid weapons in places where families gather, such as recreation centers.

“All these conversations have to be had at the state level,” Miguez said. “Law abiding citizens should be afforded the ability able to move around the state without the fear of being ensnared by a confusing patchwork of local ordinances.”

Federal and state laws already allow private property owners to prohibit anyone from carrying a firearm onto the owners’ private property, Miguez said.

But this bill would force mayors and police chiefs to allow guns in community centers where families gather, negating dozens of ordinances in cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, countered Karen White, of the Louisiana Municipal Association. Theoretically, White said, guns would be forbidden around where alcohol is sold in the Louisiana Superdome, but people could carry weapons throughout the rest of the stadium.

Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Regina Barrow said the bill is confusing. For instance, state law bans weapons in the State Capitol, but apparently not in local government meeting spots.

“We’re being very inconsistent and, on some level,, hypocritical, that we have that protection here but we’re not ensuring the locals have that protection.”

“This law is designed to make it clear to local government entities that the regulation of firearms is the purview of this legislature,” said Dan Zelenka, president, of the Louisiana Shooting Association. He lobbied to keep St. Tammany Parish from barring firearms on a bicycle/hiking trail as well as a Kenner ordinance that prevented possession of guns in the parking lot of a bar.

Zelenka said he is unaware of anyone in Louisiana being cited by law enforcement for inadvertently crossing from a jurisdiction that allows conceal carry into one that does not. But he pointed to the case of a Philadelphia woman, who “took a wrong turn” and was arrested in New Jersey and thrown in jail for carrying a weapon.

In that 2013 case, Shaneen Allen, a 27-year-old African American woman and her family, were pulled over about 40 miles from Philadelphia while on their way to Atlantic City in October 2013. She told the officer that she had a handgun with hollow point bullets and Pennsylvania-issued concealed carry permit. She was arrested and detained on possessing hollow point ammunition, which causes great physical damage.

The case became a cause célèbre for gun rights advocates wanting to challenge New Jersey’s strict gun laws in court. When the courts upheld New Jersey’s laws, then-Gov. Chris Christie pardoned Allen.

House Bill 781, also sponsored by Miguez was advanced by the committee without objection.

The proposal establishes that firearms and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, suppliers, and retailers as “essential businesses” that can’t be or prohibited from operating during times of emergency.

Miguez some restrictions remain in federal law.

John Mason, who hosts a talk show on WGSO-AM 990 in New Orleans, testified in favor of the bill.

“People are terrified that all it takes is one local executive, and I think they’re referring to (New Orleans Mayor LaToya) Cantrell, to take away their second amendment rights,” Mason said.

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