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Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, right, shown here with Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Houma, on the House floor last year, is the sponsor of a bill that would allow those 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Miguez backed the bill.  

A bill that would allow citizens 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit breezed through the Louisiana House on Wednesday.

The measure, House Bill 596, won approval 72-28 after a short but spirited debate.

It next faces action in the state Senate, which approved a similar bill last week by an equally lopsided margin.

Under current rules, citizens have to undergo safety training and a background check to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The legislation would do away with those requirements.

Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, sponsor of HB596, said there is a balance between constitutional freedoms and government mandates. "I believe that training should be required but the constitution says we have the right to possess firearms," Fontenot told the House.

He said State Police spend about $700,000 on the permitting process, including background checks, and collect about $5 million per year.

"Honest citizens should not be burdened with background checks," Fontenot said.

The proposal sparked heavy opposition from law enforcement leaders when it was approved last week in a House committee, including the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police and Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he would veto any bill that ends the permitting process.

Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, who voted "no" on the bill, read from a statement by New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, who said the bill could pave the way for thousands of untrained citizens bringing weapons to the streets of New Orleans.

"And I agree with my police superintendent. I vehemently oppose this legislation," Freeman said.

Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, cited a poll that showed 80% of state residents favor keeping the current permit process.

Landry asked Fontenot whether he thinks passage of his bill would endanger public safety.

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"No maam, I do not," he replied.

Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Houma, urged House members to back the measure.

Miguez said 20 other states have similar laws and making the bill a state law would strengthen Second Amendment rights for Louisiana residents.

The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, to reduce the minimum age to carry a concealed weapon from 21 to 18.

Asked why he favored the lower age McCormick replied, "For self defense."

He said he has four granddaughters, including one who killed her first deer at the age of 7 but is not allowed to carry a gun in her purse.

Fontenot opposed the reduced age proposal.

He said federal law prohibits 18-year-olds from buying a rifle or handgun from a federal firearms dealer, which he said would force them to make purchases on the black market.

McCormick's amendment failed 29-69.

The Senate last week approved a proposal similar to Fontenot's 27-11, which like the House measure is more than enough to override a gubernatorial veto.

However, veto overrides are almost unheard of in Louisiana and often feature different issues than the original House and Senate debates.

The Louisiana House then approved on a 94-0 vote, House Bill 124 to allow people to also conceal knives and other weapons on their person.

Voting to allow concealed handgun without a permit (73): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps. Adams, Amedée, Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Bourriaque, Brown, Butler, Carrier, R. Carter, W. Carter, Cormier, Coussan, Crews, Davis, Deshotel, DeVillier, DuBuisson, Echols, Edmonds, Edmonston, Emerson, Farnum, Firment, Fontenot, Freiberg, Frieman, Gadberry, Garofalo, Geymann, Goudeau, Harris, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Huval, Illg, Ivey, M. Johnson, T. Johnson, Kerner, LaCombe, Mack, Magee, McCormick, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, Miguez, G. Miller, Mincey, Muscarello, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, R. Owen, Pressly, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Seabaugh, St. Blanc, Stefanski, Tarver, Thomas, Thompson, Turner, Wheat, White, Wright and Zeringue.

Voting against HB596 (28): Reps. Brass, Bryant, Carpenter, G. Carter, Duplessis, Freeman, Gaines, Glover, Green, Hughes, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, Jones, Jordan, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Marcelle, Marino, D. Miller, Moore, Newell, Phelps, Pierre, Selders, Stagni and Willard.

Not Voting (3): Reps Cox, Hilferty, and Villio.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.