Veto-proof majority in Louisiana House approves constitutional carry

Veto-proof majority in Louisiana House approves constitutional carry
(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

So far this year we’ve seen two states adopt permitless or constitutional carry, not only with the support of lawmakers but with the backing of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen. If Louisiana is going to follow suit and become the 28th state to recognize the right to bear arms without a government-issued permission slip, however, legislators are going to have to overcome an anticipated veto by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who previously killed a similar measure back in 2021.

We’re one step closer to that becoming reality today after the Louisiana House voted 70-29 on Tuesday in favor of HB 131, just enough to override Edwards’ veto… at least if no one changes their vote.

The House rejected an amendment Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, a former prosecutor, proposed that would have raised the age of those able to conceal carry without a license to from 18 to 21, the current age to carry concealed with a license. Of the 27 states that have permitless carry laws, 20 have a 21+ age requirement, Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, said.

McCormick opposed the amendment, claiming Villio’s amendment relegated adults under the age of 21 to an “illegal second-class citizenship.”

The amendment narrowly failed on a 48-52 vote.

Several Democrats gave floor speeches in opposition to the bill.

“We cannot turn our state into the wild, wild west,” Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, said. “I’m sick of the guns. I’m concerned about no training.”

“We’ve got to put the guns down,” Larvadain added.

Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, began her comments by reminding lawmakers Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde shooting and called on her colleagues to address gun violence.

“That is what we’re talking about: Easier access to guns, children who have to be told they might be murdered in school,” Landry said. “We don’t have to do this. We can work on our gun safety legislation. We can work on secure schools.”

They can and should work on securing schools, but they can do so without inhibiting the rights of legal gun owners to protect themselves from violent criminals. As the Washington Post recently detailed, New Orleans’ police department is currently staffed with about 900 officers; 700 less than the 1,600 positions that the city has budgeted. The lack of police resources and stubbornly high crime rates have led to many residents wanting to protect themselves with a firearm, including Pastor Isaiah Thomas of House of Healing Outreach Church, who’s gone from being a gun owner and concealed carry holder to a firearms instructor providing training to hundreds of people.

Outside the barbershop where Stewart gets his hair cut, a man was shot twice and wounded by a group of kids who had tried to rob him and steal his car.A woman he knew was carjacked by kids who threatened to shoot her. Lately, his congregants seemed more scared than ever, fearful of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stewart understands the fear. Several years ago, he was in his car in Uptown New Orleans when an armed group ran up and tried to carjack him. He wasn’t in a fancy car. “It was an old Pontiac. I had a clergy sticker on it, my Dillard University alumni sticker,” Stewart said, referring to the historic Black university in New Orleans. “I thought, ‘You are going to jack me for this?’”

Stewart already had a concealed-carry permit but didn’t have the gun in the car. He escaped by opening the door and punching the gas, knocking down his young assailants as he drove away — a lucky break that he worried would not happen again. For him, it was a moment of clarity: It wasn’t enough to simply own a gun or have that weapon in an accessible place. He needed to learn how to use it.

Shortly after, he went to a local gun range to practice shooting. “I was like the only Black man there,” Stewart recalled. One day, a man in a jacket covered with Confederate flag patches approached him. Stewart braced for a confrontation, but instead the man offered advice on his form. “I realized that this was kind of breaking racial barriers. This White guy talking to a Black guy about guns,” he recalled.

Stewart thought about other Black people who owned guns but didn’t have a license or know how to properly use them, perhaps intimidated by what he describes as a “White-male-dominated gun industry.” Over time, Stewart became a licensed firearms instructor, and when demand for guns skyrocketed during the pandemic in response to surging violent crime, he began to see teaching people about guns as part of his calling as a pastor.

Gun violence is deadly, Stewart said, “but so is having a gun that you don’t know how to properly use.”

Now, at least one Saturday a month inside the small chapel here, Stewart presides over a separate ministry that increasingly takes up more of his time. He teaches beleaguered New Orleans residents how to obtain a concealed-weapons permit and use a gun.

“I know people will say, ‘Why is this happening in a church?’” Stewart said. “But if you read the Bible, Jesus told the disciples to protect themselves. … And to me, as a pastor, I am to look after people. And that’s what I am doing. Helping people who want to protect themselves.”

The training that Stewart provides is important, and I hope that he’ll continue to host his concealed carry classes at his church even if constitutional carry passes. Every gun owner should regularly train and practice with their firearm, but that doesn’t mean that your right to keep and bear arms should be conditioned on proving to the state’s satisfaction that you’ve done so.

Now that HB 131 has cleared the House it’s awaiting action in a Senate subcommittee. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in that body as well, but as we saw with the vote in the House the support (and opposition) to the constitutional carry bill may be bipartisan in nature, and Second Amendment supporters should be reaching out to their state senator to encourage them to get behind this civil rights and public safety bill in order to ensure it’s approved with enough votes to enact the law even if Edwards once again whips out his veto pen.