State rep trying to change law that disallows armed off-duty law officials in restaurants and bars
Right now, when a police officer enters a bar, he or she must check his or her weapon at the door. But a local lawmaker believes that law enforcement should be able to carry their firearms into restaurants and bars.
State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, has filed House Bill 10, which would do away with a state law that bars off-duty law enforcement officers from carrying firearms into any establishment where alcohol is served for consumption.
“To disallow trained professionals that daily work with their guns access to their firearms while they’re out eating in an Applebee’s or Chili’s, doesn’t make sense. Police officers have to eat, too,” said Burns. “That’s the person I would want to have their gun.”
Under current law, only law enforcement officers “acting in the performance of … official duties,” the bar or restaurant owner, and employees may openly carry firearms in such establishments.
The same bill was killed halfway through the legislative process last year, after it was amended to allow anyone to openly carry a weapon in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
“The Senate wouldn’t hear it beyond a committee,” said Burns. “I didn’t think it would be that controversial. But now, I think more people have caught up to what I’m trying to do.”
The most commonly voiced issue during last year’s session was that the change was unnecessary because the law has never been enforced.
Burns said keeping the statute as is means those enforcing the rules are in fact complicit in becoming law breakers, plus forbidding officials to carry their service weapons on their lunch breaks or out to dinner puts them at risk.
“To leave a rule out there that inadvertently makes law officials break the law when they go out to eat is arbitrary and capricious. How are you going to pick and choose what laws you enforce?” said Burns. “I haven’t met with a police officer who says they want to be without their piece. If they leave it in their car, it makes them a target.”
But the same concerns raised during the 2013 legislative session will likely pop up again.
“I find that I have a lot of contacts with law enforcement and no one in law enforcement has ever asked for this bill,” Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to the Times-Picayune about HB 10. Morrell chairs the Senate committee that killed the bill last year.
This time, Burns says he expects law enforcement agencies to support his efforts.
Burns said law enforcement groups were less agreeable to entertaining the bill because they didn’t want to put the words “law enforcement,” “guns” and “alcohol” in the same sentence.
“I received a letter from the fraternal order of police saying they would be there this time around and I’ll probably see if I can get some local officials to come down,” said Burns. “(Bossier) Sheriff (Julian) Whittington wasn’t aware of it last year and he didn’t realize the components of it and recently spoke on behalf of the bill to the state sheriff’s association.”
Morrell told the Times-Picayune he would expect the bill to be successful this time only if Burns could garner support of law enforcement organizations and ease fears that the bill would allow for the eventual legalization of unrestricted concealed carry.
“These law enforcement agencies that have talked to me will talk to the legislators and suggest that issue have a separate bill,” answered Burns.