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Guns seized by Baton Rouge police in September 2019.

Over the fierce objections of municipalities, Gov. John Bel Edwards late Monday night approved legislation that effectively invalidates local and parish ordinances restricting where a person can go with a firearm. Then on Tuesday afternoon Edwards signed a second bill that stops local officials from regulating gun sales during times of emergency. He signed a third measure Friday.

New Orleans has ordinances prohibiting guns in public buildings used for youth recreational programs, including the facilities where basketball leagues play. Baton Rouge bans firearms at all BREC parks and playgrounds. Lafayette and Hammond are among the municipalities that have forbidden people from carrying guns into places where families gather.

House Bill 140 undoes all of that,” said John Gallagher, head of the Louisiana Municipal Association. He and his staff spent much of Tuesday making and fielding calls on what these new laws will mean once they take effect on August 1.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Broome noted that nearly 90,000 Americans are injured every year as a result of assaults and unintentional shootings.

“I have seen firsthand how an increased presence of firearms affects my community,” Broome said in a statement Tuesday. “Simply put, state preemption puts our community at risk. Cities and other municipalities should have the flexibility to make our own public safety decisions, especially in these uncertain times.”

Now Act 299, the legislation was sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath. He said the restrictive local ordinances had become a patchwork of different laws, but the state should be under a single law.

Edwards has signed into law all three pro-gun bills that traveled through the legislative process together. In a session marked by limited public input because of coronavirus social distancing protocols put in place by the leadership, a couple dozen gun rights advocates managed to come to the State Capitol and testify in favor of the legislation.

On Friday Edwards approved a bill that allows people to carry their guns into places of worship, provided the head of that specific church agrees.

Initially, House Bill 334, by Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, would have removed a section of state law that details who can carry a gun into church and how to receive the necessary permission. Supporters argued that federal “private property” laws already give the owner of the church authority to decide, making the state law intrusive. But that interpretation of federal law raised the issue of just who exactly to ask. Some churches are owned by their congregations, others by their pastors, and still others are part of a larger regional or national dioceses.

State Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, tacked on a last minute amendment to HB334 that struck the state law detailing how and who could carry guns into churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship. He then added wording that requires the administrator of a particular congregation to first give permission before anyone could enter with a firearm.

House Bill 781, also by Miguez, removes the ability of the governor, chief law enforcement officers, along with local and parish government executives from regulating the manufacture and sale of firearms and ammunition during an emergency.

Miguez said gun businesses are essential in emergencies. But sometimes local authorities take matters in their own hands, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the City of New Orleans 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.

Some gun rights advocates criticized Cantrell, claiming without proof that her intent in issuing the emergency order was to confiscate guns.

But of the three bills Edwards signed, it is Act 299 that will have the largest impact.

Miguez said the legislation protects gun carriers who otherwise are law abiding, but unwittingly crossed lines into jurisdictions where weapons are not allowed.

Supporters couldn't point to a case in Louisiana where any licensed gun owner was arrested or detained for bringing a weapon into a jurisdiction that had banned them. In fact, though supporters claimed such legal actions are common nationwide, the only specific case cited was seven years old.

Shaneen Allen, a 27-year-old African-American woman and her family, were pulled over by New Jersey police about 40 miles from their home in Philadelphia while on their way to Atlantic City in October 2013. She told the officer that she had a handgun with hollow point bullets and a Pennsylvania-issued concealed carry permit. She was arrested and detained on possessing hollow point ammunition, which causes great bodily damage.

The case became a cause célèbre for gun rights advocates wanting to legally challenge New Jersey’s strict gun laws. When the courts upheld New Jersey’s laws, then-Gov. Chris Christie pardoned Allen.

Louisiana law provides a general framework for 11 situations where concealed guns are not allowed, such as police stations, jails, courthouses, the State Capitol, airports and schools. Local governments filled in the gaps with ordinances that covered specific fact scenarios unique to a given locale.

For instance, state law forbids carrying gun in "a parade or demonstration for which a permit is issued by a governmental entity."

“But what does that mean?” asked Karen White, the executive counsel for the Louisiana Municipal Association. Does it apply only to someone marching in the parade? What about spectators lining the route? How about someone not watching the parade but trying to pass behind the initial lines of spectators or sitting at an outdoor table at a nearby restaurant? 

Some ordinances, depending on the locale, define the “parade route" as any public sidewalk, street, or other public passageway upon which a parade travels. Other municipalities simply forbid carrying firearms within a thousand feet of the parade.

The state law stays in place but local ordinances are now moot. White predicted the new law would end up in court, either as insurance liability lawsuit or as a constitutional challenge.

Statistics show that the more guns around lead to more shootings. If someone is injured or killed in an area where firearms once were forbidden by a municipality, which level of government carries the liability?

Also, the state Constitution specifically forbids legislators from infringing on the authority of a local government with a home rule charter, which are the state’s big cities. Courts could be asked if the new law is an abrogation of local police power. White said she doesn’t know of any cases in the works, but “these types of preemptive laws have always been subject to challenge, particularly from one of the big guys,” such as Baton Rouge, Lafayette or New Orleans.

Staff writer Terry L. Jones contributed to this report

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.