Louisiana Republican Says He's Looking for the 'Sweet Spot' on Gun-Free Zones

AP Photo/Max Becherer

Ever since Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry signed a Constitutional Carry bill, New Orleans-area Democrats have been trying to get some or all of the city exempted from its provisions. They haven't gotten far with the state legislature overall, but they have managed to get a self-described "conservative Republican and gun enthusiast" lawmaker to offer a bill that would make the French Quarter off-limits to lawful carry, at least without a license. 

Sen. Kirk Talbot says he's reaching out to the "governor’s office, NRA, House members, Senate members, people from the gun-owning associations," and others to "figure out what that sweet spot is" when it comes to restricting the right to carry. Thankfully, at least one Second Amendment organization says the senator won't be getting their help in disarming lawful gun owners.  

NRA lobbyist Kelby Seanor declined to comment. But Daniel Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association, dismissed the idea that common ground can be found.

“Carveouts don’t make any sense to me, for the same reason gun-free zones don’t make any sense: people who are criminals, people who are going to do bad things, that’s the least of their concerns,” he said.

Zelenka downplayed fears over police and public safety, arguing the law still bars people from carrying concealed weapons while drunk or high. The law also says people carrying guns must alert law enforcement when approached. 

Zelenka said his group plans to continue opposing measures it views as rolling back the new law. In the meantime, gun advocates are backing legislation to free gun owners to carry concealed firearms without permits in restaurants that serve alcohol.

Another bill that would allow schoolteachers to carry concealed firearms isn’t likely to be heard this year, Zelenka said, though he wasn’t concerned.

“Some things need to ripen,” he said. “We've had a pretty good year.”

If Talbot is truly interested in finding accord with 2A groups and his colleagues, why didn't he spend time talking to them before he introduced his bill instead of going ahead and filing the legislation just a few days after Landry signed Constitutional Carry into law? Wouldn't that have made more sense? 

While the NRA's lobbyist declined to speak with the New Orleans Times-Picayune about Talbot's proposal, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action has criticized his bill in an alert to members, describing it as "leaving law-abiding citizens with fewer options when it comes to their inherent right to self-defense" and encouraging members to contact his office and express their disapproval. 

As Zelenka says, even after the Constitutional Carry law takes effect on July 4th, it will still be illegal to consume alcohol (or any other intoxicating substance that might be illicitly sold on the streets of the French Quarter) while carrying. If you're planning on enjoying a night of revelry in the Quarter, it's a good idea to leave your gun behind, at least if you plan on imbibing. But instead of requiring a permit to carry in the Quarter, I think a better approach would be a public awareness campaign reminding visitors that they can carry a daiquiri or their lawfully possessed pistol, but they can't do both. 

The first time I visited New Orleans was the spring of 1993, back when the state was still "may issue." At the time, New Orleans was one of the most violent cities in the country. With a homicide rate of almost 80 per 100,000 people, it was even more dangerous than Washington, D.C. In 2022 the city once again had the highest homicide rate in the country, but murders had declined by almost 50 percent compared to the early 1990s, with a rate of 52 per 100,000 people. More people lawfully carrying firearms did not lead to an explosion of violent crime or homicides, though it didn't turn the Crescent City into a crime-free utopia either. 

Of course, I don't know any Second Amendment advocate who's actually arguing that "shall issue" concealed carry or Constitutional Carry will lead to the eradication of violent crime. Instead, it's about ensuring that would-be crime victims have the ability to protect themselves from harm, and the city is indeed a safer place than it was when very few residents (and no visitors) could legally bear arms in self-defense. 

Will violent predators illegally carry guns in the Quarter once Constitutional Carry takes effect in July. I'm sure they will, but they're already doing so now, and despite the claims to the contrary from Democratic officials, law enforcement will still be able to arrest them once Constitutional Carry is in effect. 

Again, the best approach for the city and state to take would be to educate and inform visitors about their rights and their responsibilities under Constitutional Carry. If you're heading to the Quarter to soak up the history without getting soused, feel free to carry your firearm (as long as you can lawfully possess it). If your plans include drinking Hurricanes until you can't remember your name, leave your gun behind. Have a friend serve as a designated defender; staying sober and alert so the rest of you can laissez le bon temps rouler. Carving out the Quarter from the Constitutional Carry law is just going to confuse folks, and will likely lead to more arrests and citations for simply possessing a firearm. That's the exact opposite of what lawmakers intended when they adopted Constitutional Carry, and Talbot's bill, well-intentioned though it might be, should be rejected by his colleagues in Baton Rouge.