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File photo of locked guns during a seminar on responsible firearms ownership and secure storage of guns, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at Baton Rouge Police Dept. headquarters.

New state laws will soon overturn Baton Rouge ordinances that ban guns in public recreational facilities, prohibit guns in places that sell alcohol, and give city leaders authority to stop gun sales during civil emergencies. And they will stop city leaders from passing new restrictions on guns in the future.

Some area leaders, like East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, have criticized those changes, saying it tramples local control of governments and makes it harder for the city to reduce gun violence. But others agree with the new law, arguing the city shouldn't be restricting residents' Second Amendment rights more than the state does.

The laws, which Gov. John Bel Edwards signed last week, will go into effect Aug. 1. One of the most obvious impacts is on rules banning concealed firearms in BREC parks, playgrounds and other facilities. 

BREC Superintendent Corey Wilson said the parks system has no immediate plans to take down signage prohibiting firearms or changing its policies yet, even though the rules may not be legally enforceable.

"Hopefully everyone agrees that a park or playground is no place for guns," Wilson said. "We're in full support of the Second Amendment, but the standard across the industry is to prohibit them in parks and recreation centers."

Wilson said BREC even started prohibiting visitors from bringing tote bags into recreation centers following a 2015 fatal shooting of a 27-year-old man inside an Expressway Park gym in south Baton Rouge. 

"I haven't heard many stories about somebody deterring crime because they had a gun on them in park," Wilson said. "We believe an active park is a safe place."

Wilson believes would-be assailants are mostly discouraged from attacking someone when there are a lot of people and activity around.   

The three bills, which were sponsored by Republicans representatives, were lauded by gun rights advocates but opposed by many local leaders where gun regulations are already on the books. Officials in East Baton Rouge Parish are still trying to understand all the ways the new laws will affect the city-parish's gun control ordinances.

In addition to banning guns at BREC parks and playgrounds, the city-parish also has ordinances that make it illegal to have guns any place liquor is sold or consume. Ordinances also give mayor-president and mayor pro-tem the authority to discontinue the sale and distribution of guns during declared civil emergencies through executive order. 

That happened in 2005 when local lawmakers in New Orleans banned guns and gun distribution after Hurricane Katrina.

Currently, New Orleans prohibits guns in public buildings used for youth recreational programs, including the facilities where basketball leagues play. And in Lafayette and Hammond, guns are forbidden in places where families gather.

State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, who advocated for the new laws, said all the restrictive local measures had become a patchwork of different laws that made it difficult for law-abiding gun carriers to keep up with as they crossed into different jurisdictions. 

State laws list only 11 places where concealed guns are prohibited, including police stations, jails, courthouses, the State Capitol, airports, schools and government meetings.

In a prepared statement, Broome said the new laws put the city-parish at risk for more gun-related violence. The mayor thinks local governments should have the flexibility to make their own decisions around public safety. 

And many on the Metro Council agree. 

Councilman LaMont Cole said he trusts the governor is doing what he feels is right for the state as whole, but he also believes the new laws take away some of the Metro Council's ability to address gun violence in the city-parish. 

Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis thinks deeper discussions are still needed around the topic. 

"I understand the whole thing of having municipalities fall in line with state law but there has to be discussions on a deeper level with local officials about what's best for their cities and the constituents they serve before blanket laws are made statewide," she said.

Councilman Chandler Loupe is one of the few Republicans on the Metro Council who disagrees with the laws as well.

"As a parish, we should be able to decide where we do and don't allow guns," Loupe said. "Maybe we could challenge it in the courts if we wanted to, but as of yet there's no prevailing thought to do that."

Republican councilmen Dwight Hudson and Scott Wilson both said they hadn't taken "hard looks" at the new laws but fully support their intent. 

Hudson called them "mostly a good thing" that falls in line with his Second Amendment beliefs. And Wilson, who is also mayor pro tem, believes the uniformity they'll create is needed. 

"As local government, we shouldn't be more restrictive than the state," he said.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com