I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!
That National Rifle Association slogan, launched into pop culture immortality by veteran actor and former NRA president Charlton Heston, may be one step closer to becoming the law of the land in Louisiana, where voters are expected to vote on a state constitutional amendment that would give the state the strongest gun ownership protection laws in the nation.
On Thursday the Louisiana House passed Senate Bill 303, which would remove language from the state constitution specifically allowing the state to regulate concealed weapons. Now, the NRA-backed proposal is headed back to the Senate for concurrence with House committee amendments, before voters are asked to cast their ballots on the issue in November.
I can think of few things I believe in stronger than this, state Rep. Chris Broadwater, a Republican, told Louisiana Gannet News on Thursday. He added that the Legislature needs to act now to strengthen the state's firearm laws before a court decision arises that challenges the idea that gun ownership is a fundamental right.
The Louisiana constitution currently grants each citizen the right to keep and bear arms and provides that this right shall not be abridged. But it also contains a provision allowing for the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on a person.
The proposed constitutional amendment would remove the language about concealed weapons and instead add a line stating the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed. The tightened language would also impose a higher standard of proof, called strict scrutiny, for determining the constitutionality of any law or individual effort to restrict Louisiana residents' ability to own guns and carry them on their person.
Supporters of the amendment say it mirrors the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago. In that case, the court ruled the Second Amendment guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, a controversial decision that ultimately reversed the city of Chicago's ability to ban the possession of handguns.
Too many individuals see gun ownership as less than a fundamental right, according to Broadwater, which is why the state needs to strengthen its gun ownership laws in case the McDonald decision is eventually overturned.
However, opponents of legislation worry the new language could override state laws that prohibit concealed weapons on college campuses, in churches, and at sporting events. The Louisiana House rejected another proposal that would have inserted language in the constitutional amendment enumerating the places where current laws ban the carrying of firearms.
While gun ownership advocates argue that allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons will reduce crime, the Legal Community Against Violence reports that permissive concealed firearms laws have generally been found to increase crime.
The NRA, the nation's oldest and most influential pro-gun lobby, has been a staunch supporter of the Louisiana amendment. In a statement, the organization wrote Louisiana's current provision on concealed weapons gutted state residents' Second Amendment rights and that the new amendment will put anti-gun extremists immediately on the defensive if and when they try to advance their gun bans.
Louisiana had the second-highest firearms murder rate per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the latest data available from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. An average of 7.75 out of every 100,000 people were killed by a firearm that year, according to the data, following only Washington, D.C., which experienced 16 gun-related deaths for every 100,000 people.