Legislation that was inspired by a deadly shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette set off a spat between two House members on Wednesday after the bill was abruptly killed.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, had proposed a bill that would require movie theaters in Louisiana install metal detectors and screen customers for weapons. She opened her pitch for House Bill 101 in the House Criminal Justice Committee with a video of a CBS News report on the July 23, 2015, shooting at The Grand 16 Theatre in Lafayette that left two people dead and nine injured. The gunman, John Russell Houser, killed himself after the attack.
“It’s about saving lives,” Norton said of her legislation that would create criminal penalties for theater operators in violation. “I know none of us want to think about dropping our children or grandchildren off at the movies and when we come back their lives have been taken.”
Norton showed photos she had taken at a movie theater during a recent trip to Washington state — one of a sign that noted that patrons would be searched for weapons and another of a theater employee searching through Norton’s large purse.
Just 15 minutes later, her bill was “involuntarily deferred” by a colleague — a procedural move that means it’s likely dead for this session. The move also blocked Norton from making her closing case on the bill or answering further questions, and it meant no supporters or critics of the bill had an opportunity to testify.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said he thought the legislation would create “a false sense of security” because unarmed, untrained movie theater employees would be little deterrence to someone who wanted to commit a mass shooting.
“Just having a piece of mechanical device there, doesn’t do anything in my opinion,” Bacala said.
He said he also worried about the safety of people — often teenagers — who would be working the theater and might be targeted by would-be shooters.
“That employee would likely be the first victim and nothing more,” he said.
Norton, visibly upset by the path her bill had taken, said, “Thank you Mr. Bacala for not saving our children.”
Nearly two hours later, Norton again raised concerns over what she saw as the “unfair” handling of her bill. She said she had received several text messages from others who said they also thought she was treated unfairly.
“Anytime that we as legislators work hard to prepare a bill, I feel we should have a fair shot at it,” Norton said. “We’re supposed to be team players here — I think the more that we are team players, the more we can get done.”
Committee Chair Sherman Mack, R-Albany, urged Norton and Bacala to get a cup of coffee together to make up.
“We all have our convictions,” Mack said.