Gun control under fire

Lisa Yates

In Louisiana, a state nicknamed a "Sportsman's Paradise," proposed gun control restrictions are under fire.

As Congress weighed over several gun control bills at the national level, state law makers introduced their own series of bills aimed at protecting gun owners' rights.

Governor Bobby Jindal signed several of these new bills into law recently.

"As Governor, I have already signed legislation to expand Louisiana's Right-to-Carry law in state parks, protect the privacy of Right-to-Carry permit holders, preserve Louisiana's hunting heritage through the 'Louisiana Family Hunting Law,' and allow people to keep firearms stored in their vehicles while parked at work. Today, we are building on the work we've done to protect the rights of Louisianians while also implementing common-sense gun safety measures," he said in a recent news release.

On June 19, Jindal signed six additional laws he said would improve gun safety in Louisiana and protect law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The package of legislation included SB 135 and HB 717, HB 6, HB 8, HB 98 and SB 178.

• SB 135 and HB 717 increases reporting standards to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database.

Under the new law, individuals who are ineligible to purchase firearms include those involuntary committed to an inpatient mental facility, found not guilty by reason of insanity, found not competent to stand trial or convicted of a violent crime.

This new law allows someone whose mental illness diagnosis has been reversed to regain his/her right to possess a firearm through a petition to the court.

• HB 6 allows off-duty law enforcement officers to carry their firearms on school property, at school sponsored functions and in firearm-free zones.

While current law already allows on-duty officers to carry their weapons, HB 6 removes the requirement that the law enforcement officer be in the performance of his official duties in order for the exemption to apply. The bill also expands the exemption to include a federal law enforcement officer or a Louisiana commissioned state or local POST Certified law enforcement officer who is authorized to carry a firearm.

• HB 8 adds tough penalties to the release of information provided on concealed handgun permits.

Pam Mitchell, executive director for the Louisiana Press Association, called this a "horrible" bill.

"While the felony provision if prosecuted would apply to a neighbor reporting on the neighborhood Facebook network about other neighbors who have concealed handgun permits, the measure is targeting newspapers," she said in a recent news release. "The whole thing backed by the NRA and supported by the Governor's office stems from reporting that happened in New York. There are differences between what was reported in committee and what the director of the New York Press Association says what happened."

She said an online newspaper in New York published a Google map with dots denoting the names and addresses of everyone who had a pistol permit. She added, the records were legally available under the Freedom of information Law (FOIL) and never appeared in a printed newspaper.

A legislator in New York reported two houses were burgled as a result of the publication. Afterwards, the legislature passed an opt out provision, but declined to close the records in total.

Under HB 8, employees of DPSC who disclose information from concealed handgun permit applications shall be fined not more than $500, imprisoned for not more than six months, or both (a misdemeanor). In addition, any other person who discloses information shall be fined $10,000 and may be imprisoned for not more than six months, or both (a misdemeanor).

Exemptions to criminal liability include a court order for the release of the information, a felony offense involving the use of a handgun, or applicant consent.

• HB 98 authorizies a sheriff to enter into a reciprocity agreement with another sheriff from a contiguous parish, which allows them both to issue concealed handgun permits valid in their parishes.

The bill also includes penalties for dissemination of confidential information contained in the permit application.

• SB 178 provides voter makes sure voter registration application forms are available at firearms retailers located throughout Louisiana.

The bill defines "firearm retailer" as any retailer who possesses a Type 01 Federal Firearms License and employs 25 or more full-time employees.

• HB 265 (signed into law May 30) provides for a lifetime concealed handgun permit.

Under the law, permit applicants must pre-pay present law fees for a total of 20 years at the time the application is made. If the applicant is 65 years of age or older, the present law fee shall be pre-paid for a total of 10 years. Lifetime permits may be revoked for the same reasons present law concealed handgun permits can be rescinded.

In addition, HB 265 provides that a lifetime concealed handgun permit shall be suspended if the holder of that permit becomes a resident of another state, and it allows for the reactivation of the permit upon a criminal background check and return to Louisiana residency. Lifetime concealed handgun permit holders must also provide proof of educational training every five years.

These laws come as a backlash to new gun control laws proposed in Washington.

Following the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, President Barack Obama gave a televised address calling for action to help reduce gun violence. Within 15 hours of the incident, 100,000 Americans signed a petition at the president's website in support of gun control. In response, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, a bill to stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices.

As expected, it failed. The vote was 40-60.

Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson said he is in favor of tougher penalties for offenders, but he is not in favor of new legislation restricting the sale or possession of semi-automatic weapons.

"As a law enforcement officer, it is common for someone to possess or purchase a semi-automatic weapon," he said. "There are laws already set in place that I consider fair to the regular citizen; however, when these laws are broken, I think the penalties should be stiffer. I think a person who has a history of mental illness should have restrictions to any type of firearm."

The police chief said the gun control issue should be discussed amongst legislators and the law enforcement community.

"There should be some reasonable restrictions set in place on certain weapons that could cause mass casualties," he said. "Gun safety and gun violence should be handled through education."