John Bel Edwards has always publicly endorsed gun rights. But the Democratic governor has also shown a pragmatic streak and supported sensible limits.
After the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Edwards came out against a proposal to arm teachers, arguing that having more trained resource officers would be the safer approach. And at a recent online town hall hosted by this paper from his fourth-floor office, he responded to a tongue-in-cheek question by columnist Smiley Anders by arguing that state lawmakers shouldn’t come to work at the Capitol armed. He chuckled at the question’s premise, but his response was serious: ”I think this ought to remain one of those buildings where we don’t have individuals with concealed carry rights. … I’ve seen the tempers flare firsthand.”
So we were disappointed to see Edwards put his signature on a pair of bills that deprive worshippers and localities of the right to make similar judgment calls.
The governor signed House Bill 334 by Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, which allows concealed carry in places of worship if the head of the institution OKs it. State law previously required that congregations be notified of such decisions, which itself was the result of a compromise between those who back unfettered concealed carry and those who wanted to allow churches, synagogues and mosques to decide. Lawmakers watered down Fontenot’s original proposal that would have kept the institutions’ leaders from having a say as well, but they still saw fit to cut the people who fill the pews out of the loop.
Edwards also signed House Bill 140 by Republican caucus chair Blake Miguez, R-Erath, which voids local laws banning firearms at places such as playgrounds, parks, public buildings and commercial establishments frequented by families and children. Here too, the final bill is an improvement over Miguez’s original draft, which left the Capitol’s existing gun ban in place but blocked local government bodies from prohibiting firearms where they meet, even though tempers certainly flare there too. But it still affects the ability of local officials to keep their constituents safe as they see fit.
The bill drew fierce opposition from municipalities all over the state, including the urban centers that played a major role in Edwards’ reelection last fall. For voters there, Edwards’ signature is a slap in the face.
In fact, local control is supposed to be a conservative value — except, it seems, when pro-gun extremists smell an opportunity to score political points rather than focus on a pandemic that has sickened thousands of Louisianans, devastated large segments of the economy and kept many members of the public from participating in the legislative process.
There was no emergency here, only a chance to notch a couple of wins. That, apparently, trumps public safety for too many lawmakers — and, it seems, for the governor as well.