Louisiana would strip the requirement that gun owners must have a permit to carry concealed firearms, under a bill that started advancing Monday in the state Senate in contrast to a national debate over whether to tighten gun restrictions.
A Senate judiciary committee narrowly backed the proposal by Sen. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican. The 3-2 vote sending the bill to the full Senate fell along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure while Democrats opposed it.
“The bill does not make it easier to buy guns,” Morris said. “This is a bill for law-abiding citizens.”
The measure would allow anyone 21 years or older in Louisiana — if the person isn’t barred from having a firearm because of a violent crime conviction or some other legal prohibition — to carry a concealed handgun. Current law requires a permit from the Louisiana State Police to carry a concealed firearm, with several hours of training, fingerprinting and a fee payment.
Supporters argued the permitting requirements violate their constitutional rights to bear arms, while opponents argued removal of the permitting could jeopardize public safety by eliminating a requirement for training on gun use.
“We shouldn’t need the government’s permission to defend ourselves,” said Chris Patron, with the Firearms Professionals of Louisiana.
But Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat who said he has a concealed carry permit, told bill supporters: “Having people who are not trained is dangerous.”
Morris said 20 other states don’t require a concealed carry permit.
The Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the proposal as a threat to public safety. Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat, echoed the concerns, saying she believes the mandatory training is important and everyone should have to go through it to carry a concealed firearm.
“In order to drive, you have to have a license,” Barrow said.
Morris replied: “It’s the difference between privilege and a right. The right to drive isn’t the constitution, but the right to keep and bear arms is.”
But Barrow said she worried it would make interactions between the public and law enforcement more contentious, because police officers would have to assume anyone they pull over is carrying a weapon. Supporters of Morris’ bill said police officers must already assume that because of people who have illegal weapons.
Dan Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association, said the permitting process can be costly. He estimated it can carry a price tag around $300, between the training costs and the $125 to the state police for a five-year permit.
Sen. Franklin Foil, the Baton Rouge Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary C Committee, raised questions about the lost revenue to the state police by removing the permitting requirement. No financial analysis of the bill has been released yet, but that could force it to a second committee hearing before the Senate budget committee.
The proposal, if approved by the House and Senate, would take effect Aug. 1.
Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Mark Abraham of Lake Charles, Beth Mizell of Franklinton and Rick Ward of Port Allen. Voting against the bill were Barrow and Carter. Foil didn’t vote.