By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator
While some states call for stricter laws on guns in response to a wave of mass shootings this year, Louisiana saw limited action from state lawmakers during the 2022 regular session.
The only legislation Louisiana lawmakers passed this year directly related to school shootings is a study resolution to look at the impacts of arming school employees. House Resolution 217, sponsored by state Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, requests that the state Department of Education study the risks and benefits of allowing certain school employees to carry concealed guns.
Another new law from the state’s Republican-dominated legislature will allow current and former military personnel to carry concealed guns without a permit. Act 680, sponsored by state Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, takes effect Aug. 1.
State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, who has previously championed pro-gun legislation, said Louisiana doesn’t need new gun control laws.
“In Louisiana, there is an appetite for enforcing the gun laws currently on the books, holding violent criminals accountable for their acts, finding better ways to secure our schools, combating mental health problems and strengthening law-abiding citizens’ rights to defend themselves and their loved ones,” Miguez said.
Louisiana has no child access prevention laws, no universal background checks or waiting periods for purchasing a gun, no safety training requirements, no restrictions on assault rifles, silencers or high-capacity magazines, and no firearm registration requirements. There are restrictions for carrying concealed guns, possessing guns with a felony record and carrying guns in certain places such as schools, government buildings, polling places and at parades.
Any adult or child of any age, without a felony record, can own and possess a gun in Louisiana, though federal laws require buyers to be at least 18 for rifles and shotguns and at least 21 for handguns.
Peter Robins-Brown with the nonprofit advocacy Louisiana Progress said state residents are inclined to support the kinds of gun control policies that national polling shows are overwhelmingly popular. The challenge, he said, is getting politicians to act.
“Legislators, or a large majority of them, won’t have any appetite at all for any kind of gun law,” Robins-Brown said. “But generally, I would say the people are probably pretty strongly in favor of raising the age to buy assault weapons to 21 [and] some sort of expansion of background checks, if not universal background checks. One law I would like to see someone float seriously is removing the protection that gun manufacturers have from civil liability.”
A state-by-state breakdown of gun mortality rates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Louisiana has the second highest per capita rate with 26.3 deaths for every 100,000 residents, trailing Mississippi’s 28.6. The top five states with the highest rates of gun deaths — Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri and Alabama — also have some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, ranking among the highest on a “Gun Friendly Index” compiled by the pro-gun website AZ Defenders.
As for mass shootings, studies indicate they are largely an American problem. Although mass shootings occur in other countries, the U.S. is the only developed nation to consistently have mass shootings every year, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice. It found that the U.S. accounted for 79% of 139 mass shootings that occurred in developed countries between 1998 to 2019.
The Gun Violence Archive, an independent research group that maintains an online archive of gun violence incidents in real time, reported a total of 320 mass shootings in the U.S. this year as of Wednesday. It logs any incident with four or more victims killed or wounded as a mass shooting.
The link between mass shootings and mental health remains unclear. A 2018 FBI study on the characteristics of active shooters between 2000 and 2013 found that only 25% had a confirmed mental health diagnosis of any kind. This rate tracks with the population at large as 26% of American adults have a diagnosable mental health condition, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Most gun violence in Louisiana and across the nation is not linked to mass shootings but to other incidents such as domestic violence.
One new Louisiana law to address domestic violence is Act 75, sponsored by state Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero. It enhances penalties for an offender who violates a protective order and goes to the victim’s residence, school, or place of employment while in possession of a firearm. The law takes effect Aug. 1.
Statistics from a variety of sources show America is an extreme outlier with permissive gun laws, the most civilian-owned guns and the highest rates of gun homicides and gun deaths of any high-income nation with a population greater than 10 million, according to studies cited by the Giffords Law Center.
The numbers have become particularly worse in recent years but remain below the all-time highs seen during the 1970s. Gun deaths have increased approximately 43% since 2010, according to the CDC. Americans are now 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other high-income countries, according to a 2019 study in the healthcare journal Preventive Medicine.
More recent data also suggests that gun ownership has grown significantly over the past several years. A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine published in February found that 7.5 million U.S. adults became first-time gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021, exposing 11 million people, including 5 million children, to firearms in their homes.