Louisiana's Fight For Constitutional Carry Not Over Yet

David Duprey

When the clock ran out on Louisiana’s 2021 legislative session last week, it looked like gun owners were going to end up frustrated. Constitutional carry legislation had cleared both the House and Senate with wide majorities, but Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the bill, and the odds of lawmakers coming back for an attempt to override the veto weren’t good.

If Constitutional Carry were the only piece of legislation vetoed by Edwards despite widespread support from the Republicans who control the House and Senate had passed (and even a few of their Democratic colleagues), it’s likely that the lawmakers would be spending their summer back home in their districts. Unfortunately for Edwards (and fortunately for gun owners), there’s at least one other veto that has the GOP increasingly likely to fight for an override.

Senate President Page Cortez said Wednesday that senators are likely to support the effort to try to overturn Gov. John Bel Edwards’ bill rejections.

 

Cortez says Edwards’ spurning of a bill banning transgender athletes from participating on school sports teams appeared to have spurred enough backing among senators for the mid-July veto session.

Both Constitutional Carry and the legislation requiring high school athletes to compete on the teams corresponding to their biological gender are red-meat items for Republican voters, but there’s also a more meat-and-potatoes bill dealing with some $300-million in funding for road improvements that Edwards may veto that could impact the decision to get lawmakers together in Baton Rouge in mid-July for a veto override session.

Louisiana political analyst Clancy DuBos, who’s no fan of Constitutional Carry, complains that if the GOP does call for a veto override session, lawmakers will be putting politics above policy.

The leadership of the Republican-majority Legislature wants to embarrass the Democratic governor by overriding his vetoes. Edwards wants to keep that from happening. Depending on the outcome of their showdown, we citizens could have even more to lose.

It’s amazing to me that WWL-TV actually pays DuBos for insipid commentary like this. Of course the veto override session, if it takes place, will be about politics. The governor’s vetoes were also about politics, because signing either Constitutional Carry or the transgender athletes bill would have been seen as a repugnant sellout by Edwards’ fellow Democrats; both in Louisiana and nationally.

So yes, the veto override session is political. The real question is whether or not it can be successful. As the Advocate newspaper notes, the magic numbers to override a gubernatorial veto in the Senate are 70 and 26; 70 House members and 26 senators must vote in favor of overriding a governor’s veto in order for it to take place.

The vote on Constitutional Carry was 73-29 in the House and 27-9 in the Senate, which means that the votes are there for an override, at least on paper. When the actual vote was cast in the Senate, 26 Republicans and one lonely Democrat voted in favor of the measure, while one member of the GOP caucus was absent. If all Republicans hang together (and are present for the vote), then they could lose the support of Sen. Gary Smith, Jr. (though Smith has generally voted in favor of pro-2A legislation in the past). Republican Sen. Rick Ward III, who was absent on the final vote in favor of passage, did vote to approve SB 118 when the Senate originally gave the green light, so his vote during a potential override shouldn’t be much of a concern.

In the state House, there was a single Republican who voted against Constitutional Carry, two more who were absent, and seven Democrats who joined alongside 65 Republicans in approving SB 118. Here’s where the math gets interesting, and maybe a little daunting for Second Amendment supporters.

Rep. Joe Stagni, the lone Republican to vote against Constitutional Carry, has a history of voting against legislation expanding or protecting the right to keep and bear arms, so it seems unlikely to me that his GOP colleagues will be able to convince him to switch his vote and support permitless carry (though I hope they’re trying).

If Republican representatives Barbara Reich Freiburg and Stephanie Hilferty, who were both absent for the House vote on Constitutional Carry, join with their fellow conservatives and endorse SB 118 during the override session, that would get the GOP to 67 votes. Freiburg and Hilferty have previously been supportive of pro-2A legislation, but I’ve not been able to find any comments from the lawmakers specifically referencing SB 118 or Constitutional Carry. Still, let’s put them down as “yes” votes. The next question is whether or not Republicans can get three Democratic House members to buck the governor and vote once more in support of Constitutional Carry.

The good news is that two Democrats in the House were sponsors of Constitutional Carry, and didn’t merely vote in favor of the bill when it came up on the floor. If any Democrats are going to vote to override Edwards’ veto, I’d say that Rep. Francis Thompson and Rep. Travis Johnson are the most likely candidates.

So that gets us to 69, which is nice, but is still one shy of the 70 votes needed to override Edwards and establish Louisiana as the 22nd Constitutional Carry state. Well, as it turns out there was also an independent legislator who backed Constitutional Carry when it came up in the House; Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, a grocery store owner who was elected in 2019 on a pro-2A platform. If Adams has any hope of running as a Second Amendment supporter when he’s up for reelection in 2023, he’s going to have to vote in favor of Constitutional Carry once more. In fact, if he does, he could legitimately argue that his was the 70th vote that put bill over the top.

Even if the remaining five Democrats who voted in favor of SB 118 were to reverse course and put fealty to the Party over the rights of their constituents, there would still be the 70 votes necessary to make Constitutional Carry the law in Louisiana.

So, the GOP can override Edwards’ veto without the need of any Democrats in the Senate, but must get (at the very least) the two Democratic co-sponsors of Constitutional Carry in the House to remain on board. It’s doable, but I hope that the Second Amendment supporters in House Districts 19 and 21 are calling and emailing their representatives and urging them to continue to stand in support of the right to keep and bear arms, even at the expense of their standing in the Democratic Party.