I’m still salty about the debacle over Constitutional Carry in Louisiana, where despite a veto-proof majority in both chambers Republicans failed to deliver a bill removing the requirement for a government-issued permission slip before lawful gun owners can bear arms in self-defense. While we don’t know for sure why Republican leadership pulled the plug on the legislation, I suspect that it was largely an act of political cowardice. Louisiana’s legislative elections are coming up in November, and my hunch is that there were several Republican lawmakers who were worried about how Constitutional Carry would play with voters, especially with some local law enforcement and almost every media outlet in the state opposed to the measure.
But as we discuss on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, Republicans didn’t necessarily have to play defense on this issue. Instead, they could have attacked the status quo in demanding changes to the state’s carry laws. As the New Orleans Time-Picayune reports, police are making more arrests for the non-violent, possessory “crime” of carrying without a license (something that’s perfectly lawful for legal gun owners to do in more than half the country), but prosecutors are rarely following through with charges… and when they do the resulting guilty plea (or in rare cases, conviction) hardly ever leads to more than a slap on the wrist.
Last year, New Orleans police arrested 240 people whose only alleged offense was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, more than twice the number arrested in any year in the last decade. The department has touted the arrests — which its officers have made mostly amid Mardi Gras, and mostly in the French Quarter — and said they are crucial to its crime-fighting strategy.
But at the same time, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has deprioritized prosecuting the offense, which is punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment and a $500 fine.
Seventy percent of the cases resulting from last years’ arrests have yet to reach a conclusion under the administration of District Attorney Jason Williams.
Andre Gaudin Jr., chief of screening for the district attorney’s office, wrote in an email to The Times-Picayune that firearms on the street are “undoubtedly connected with our current spike in gun crime,” adding that the district attorney’s office supports arresting people who are carrying concealed weapons illegally.
However, he noted, the office is “prioritizing crimes of violence, victim crimes, and crimes against society — in that order.”
Even as the cases languish at the district attorney’s office, New Orleans police are increasing their enforcement of concealed-carry violations. Halfway through the year, officers have made more than four times as many arrests on the concealed-carry charge as they made in the first half of 2022.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in New Orleans for something that is perfectly legal in 27 states across the country, which is infuriating for those of us in favor of Constitutional Carry. But I would also challenge gun control supporters to show me the value in Louisiana’s current statute, which not only is of little use beyond padding the crime statistics for local police, but also appears to be selectively enforced against black gun owners.
The Times-Picayune analyzed the most recent misdemeanor gun arrests and reviewed 10 years of records from the district attorney’s office, as well as jail records and other information on incidents in which individuals were charged only with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
The data shows that Black people are far more likely to be booked on the charge. Since 2021, 456 people have been arrested only because they were allegedly carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. More than 90% of them were Black.
The newspaper also zeroed in on the six days leading up to Mardi Gras 2023, a time when former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said stop-and-frisk foot patrols are at their most aggressive.
Especially in the French Quarter, “tourists are driving the city’s reputation,” said Serpas, now a criminologist at Loyola University. “You [must] have a policing package that recognizes that.”
This year, in the six days ending on Mardi Gras, New Orleans police and partner agencies, including Louisiana State Police, arrested 145 people on charges related to carrying firearms. Most were arrested on Bourbon Street.
Almost half of those arrested in the discretionary stops — 71 — were booked with a single charge of failing to have a permit for their concealed weapon. All but one were Black.
The New Orleans D.A.’s office has rejected many of these charges, and while its come under some criticism for doing so it’s not like prosecuting these “crimes” would make much of a difference. Under Louisiana law carrying without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail at most, along with a $500 fine. But as the Times-Picayune reports, in almost every case seized guns are returned to their owners, and 90% of the time a guilty plea or conviction results in probation, not jail time.
It’s hard to imagine that such light treatment is going to have a deterrent effect on violent criminals in the Crescent City. Instead, it’s legal gun owners who are bearing the burden here, including those who might travel to the city from neighboring states like Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma; all of which are already Constitutional Carry states.
Louisiana Republicans could have changed this untenable status quo if they had stuck together to pass Constitutional Carry. Even if Gov. John Bel Edwards had vetoed the bill, the numbers are there (at least on paper) to override his veto and restore some sanity to the state’s carry laws. Instead, GOP leadership wimped out when they could have gone on the attack; pointing out the disparate harm caused by the unreasonable and ineffective statute currently in place and daring Democrats to defend the city’s stop-and-frisk tactics used to enforce the concealed carry law. This is a fight worth having, both on constitutional and public safety grounds, but it will have to wait until next year thanks to the feckless decision by GOP leadership in the state… and in the meantime hundreds of other residents and visitors are likely to fall victim to the city’s strict enforcement of what is ultimately a ridiculously silly way to combat crime.