A Louisiana House committee Wednesday advanced three “gun rights” bills including one that would allow people to carry guns into churches, regardless of what congregants say, as well as another that would remove a local government’s ability to regulate firearms at playgrounds, public buildings and commercial establishments in its jurisdiction.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Committee, on a 10-1 vote, sent to the full House legislation that would repeal the current law, which requires the permission of the congregants, to allow a concealed handgun permit holder to go packing at services in a church, synagogue, mosque or similar place of worship.
“Common sense should tell us that we shouldn’t have to protect ourselves in church,” said state Rep. Bryan Fontenot, the Thibodaux Republican who sponsored House Bill 334. “Criminals have certainly defined another narrative for us.”
Will Hall of the Louisiana Baptist Convention helped create the existing law that allows congregations to decide if concealed guns are allowed in a church. He said HB334 would remove the ability of congregations to decide what they want for their own churches.
On a 7-3 vote, the committee advanced legislation that would remove an exception in current state law that allows parish and municipal governments to regulate where firearms can be carried within their jurisdiction.
Karen White, of the Louisiana Municipal Association, said no evidence has been shown that local ordinances have caused any problems, except for a few anecdotes about incidents in other states. But what House Bill 140 would do is “obliterate” ordinances in communities – like Baton Rouge, Mandeville, Hammond, Kenner, and Thibodaux – that limit carrying firearms into playgrounds, water parks, public parks, public buildings and commercial establishments where families and children visit.
Supporters of HB140 argued that allowing local authorities to decide has created a patchwork of laws across the state.
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Radio show host Tom Gresham, of Mandeville, pointed out that Louisiana has 367 jurisdictions and that could easily make people traveling from one to another an unwitting criminal.
“This would have the state Legislature decide on behalf of all 64 parishes,” said Rep. Blake Miguez, the Erath Republican sponsoring House Bill 140.
When Mike Weinberger was asked during testimony if local officials had any rights to come up with rules governing the people of their community, he replied that laws have failed to protect people from criminals.
“Those laws don’t work,” said Weinberger of the Home Defense Foundation in New Orleans. “That’s why we have to defend ourselves.”
Testimony was passionate, often angry, and led one person to be ejected from the hearing.
Nolan Boutte, a member of victim’s rights group, questioned legislators who were looking at their cell phones.
“Sorry, you paying attention to me?” Boutte asked Rep. Tony Bacala, the Prairieville Republican sitting as chair of the committee.
Bacala told Boutte that the procedures did not allow for witnesses to question committee members.
“This is what I was talking about the ‘Wizard of Oz’ mentality and people wanting to be the wizard,” Boutte replied.
Bacala ordered Boutte to be escorted out of the building.
“Our victims are dying on the streets,” Boutte said as the sergeant-at-arms grabbed the microphone.
“This is our Legislature: Fantasyland,” Boutte said as he left the hearing room.
And committee members approved without objection House Bill 781, which would remove the ability of the governor, chief law enforcement officers, along with local and parish government executives from regulating the sale and dispensing of firearms and ammunition during an emergency.
“We feel strongly that these gun businesses are essential in an emergency,” said Miguez, who also sponsored HB781. “We’ve got to send a message to local authorities.”
He was alluding to the City of New Orleans, which after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 banned guns. State law has since been changed to forbid confiscation but to allow local governments to suspend the local sale of firearms during a declared emergency.
New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell correctly cited her authority to issue an emergency order in March as being lodged in the Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act. Section 727 of the disaster act includes wording that would allow a local governmental executive to suspend the sale of firearms during the emergency.
Miguez’s bill would take away that authority.