By Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana House on Tuesday passed proposals that would expand the state’s reach over local regulation of gun control and boost existing “stand your ground” laws, indicating a momentum of gun legislation in the state.
The House voted 68-30 to support a bill by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, which would eliminate the authority of local governments to prohibit the possession of firearms in certain businesses and public buildings.
On the House floor, Miguez contended that the current law is “a patchwork of regulations [that] confuse those trying to follow the law.” Gun law should be consistent around the state, he added.
Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, expressed the position of the Louisiana Municipal Association, an organization that advocates for community development, that municipalities should retain their authority to designate firearm-free zones.
Several members of the Black Legislative Caucus also opposed the bill.
Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said local governments know what is best for their residents. “We cannot continue trumping local government rights,” Landry added.
In his rebuttal, Miguez highlighted the importance of Second Amendment rights.
“A good guy with a gun always stops a bad guy with a gun,” Miguez said.
Half of all Louisiana households own a gun, according to a report by the Violence Policy Center, which is a nonprofit that advocates for stricter gun control laws.
Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in gun-related deaths and gun ownership, according to the same report.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, questioned why Miguez wanted to strip local governments of the authority to regulate their own communities.
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, was the only lawmaker who spoke in support of the bill.
The House also voted 67-27 to support a proposal by Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Houma, which would further expand “stand your ground” laws in places of worship.
Amedée referred to recent attacks in or against religious sites. “It’s clear that the places of worship have become targets,” she said.
Amedée said her proposal is a self-defense bill that would give individuals using deadly force in religious sites reassurance that when such force is used, prosecutors would assume these acts as justified.
But Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, and Marino pushed back against the necessity of the bill, arguing that it does little to change the existing “stand your ground” law.
Miguez also added an amendment to define “intruder” and “lawful person” to Amedée’s bill.
The amendment passed in a 64-29 vote.
James implied that the “stand your ground” law is problematic because it could facilitate targeting people of color.
“I understand that you don’t feel the fear that we feel, but it’s real,” James said on the House floor, also pointing to other members of the Black Legislative Caucus. “And I know you might be tired of hearing it, but we’re tired of enduring it.”
Amedée waived questions on her bill, contending that “to continue to discuss this is not going to sway votes for or against.”
“[The bill] does not provide for people to just shoot someone for coming into a church, especially not just because they look different,” Amedée said in her closing remarks. “Some people want to make this bill a racial bill,” she added.
The Louisiana chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement that advocates for public safety measures against gun violence, opposed both bills.
Amy Sideris, a volunteer for the organization, said in a phone interview that her organization opposes the proposal because it would strip the authority of local governments to “make decisions that would affect their ability to keep the public community safe from gun violence.”
The Moms Demand Action group has expressed concerns that local governments would lose authority in regulating gun possession in locations such as establishments that serve alcohol and sites where children play.
Louisiana’s biggest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, prohibit guns in buildings used for youth recreational activities.
In Louisiana, 76% of homicides are committed with firearms, but in New Orleans, the average increases to 91%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Orleans City Council, respectively.
Both bills are supported by the National Rifle Association.
Miguez, a competitive shooter, has also proposed a bill that would make it illegal for banks and other financial institutions in Louisiana to deny service to customers based on their involvement with the firearm industry.
Under the proposed legislation, rejected customers could file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, which would then pursue civil penalties against any offending banks.
The firearms bills that cleared the House on Tuesday now advance to Senate committees for approval.