LSU Journalism coverage of the State Legislature
Though legislators proposed an array of bills to deal with gun violence and improve school safety, they have passed no major changes in gun laws in a session book-ended by school shootings in Florida and Texas.
The Legislature convened for the first time this year two days before the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and many of the bills -- which would have raised the age to buy an assault rifle, ban bump stocks and arm teachers -- were filed in response to that and other shootings around the country.
Even some veteran legislators were surprised by the results and attributed the lack of consensus to the vastly different priorities held by legislators across the state.
“I think it’s reflective of the state we live in,” Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said. “People say we aren’t diverse-- we are.”
Bills by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, proposed to prohibit individuals under 21 from purchasing assault-style weapons like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Florida Legislature passed a similar law in a package of bills to address gun violence.
Carter’s bill reached the Senate floor but was defeated 24-9 in April. Its House counterpart failed in committee.
Members of both the House and Senate in Louisiana pushed legislation to ban “bump-stocks”--a widely called-for change in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, where the rapid-fire device was used in killing 59 people at a country music festival.
The Senate version of the bump-stock ban, also sponsored by Carter, advanced through committee but was shelved after its House counterpart was voted down in a House committee.
In the House committee hearing, representatives of the National Rifle Association, which announced last fall that it would support a ban on bump stocks, said the organization opposed any attempt by state legislatures to ban the device, choosing instead to focus on federal regulations.
The federal government has not finalized any such regulation.
Several bills perused by Louisiana legislators attempted to increase the number of guns on school campuses.
A number of legislators are ardent supporters of gun rights, and some have echoed a quote from the long-time heard of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”
A pair of bills by Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette, sought to arm teachers and school employees. Another by Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, would have allowed trained citizens to patrol schools with the permission of the school principal.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he opposed arming teachers, and all three bills died in committee.
A bill originally intended to allow concealed carry permit holders--excluding school employees--to bring a concealed handgun on school property passed after it was watered down.
Since introducing the bill, Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, insisted that it was not an attempt to address gun violence in schools, but merely an effort to protect the Second Amendment rights of “law-abiding citizens.” However, members of a Senate judiciary committee that considered the bill voiced concerns that it would endanger students.
In an apparent response to the bill’s opposition, Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, offered an amendment in committee that softened the bill. The amended version would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry weapons up to the school property line.
Previous law had designated a gun-free zone extending 1,000 feet around school property, but Chabert said recent court rulings had cast doubt on how that law should be applied to concealed-carry permit holders.
The bill faced no debate on the Senate floor and was passed with a 31-6 vote. The House voted 88-6 Thursday to accept the amendments and send the bill to the governor’s desk.
The result illustrates the inability of either gun-rights or gun-control advocates in Louisiana to pass comprehensive legislation amid a growing national conversation about gun violence and school safety.
Only five bills about guns cleared both houses of the Legislature. So far, Edwards has only signed one of those into law--Rep. Joseph Stagni’s bill to stiffen penalties for supplying firearms to felons.
Another bill that passed established a framework for temporarily transferring firearms from individuals named in restraining orders.
Proponents of the bill, written by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, tout the model for the legislation, a program created by the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, as having significantly reduced shootings in domestic violence disputes. That bill, which was not opposed by the National Rifle Association, passed both houses.
Another bill by Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, would permit students to carry bulletproof backpacks at school, though they would not provide protection against high-caliber rifles.
Originally published May 18.