New Orleans Officials Think They've Found a Way to Turn Much of French Quarter Into 'Gun-Free Zone'

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

Just days before Louisiana's new Constitutional Carry law takes effect, New Orleans officials have announced that much of the French Quarter is now off-limits to lawful concealed carry... despite lawmakers' refusal to turn the tourist district into a "gun-free zone." 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, along with police superintendent Ann Kirkpatrick, had lobbied the legislature to exempt the French Quarter and downtown business district from the Constitutional Carry law, but instead legislators increased the penalties for carrying while intoxicated in the Quarter, as well as allowing police to stop-and-frisk those they believed were illegally carrying. That wasn't good enough for the Democrats in charge of the city government, who are now trying to do an end-run around state law in order to prohibit the lawful carrying of firearms.

The NOPD will now designate its Eighth District station, in the heart of the French Quarter, as a vocational technical school.

That means the police station and areas within 1,000 feet of it—a radius that includes the blocks bounded by Canal and Toulouse streets and large stretches of busy Bourbon, Royal and Chartres streets—will be designated gun-free zones. 

NOPD Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick, Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, City Council member Helena Moreno and other officials collaborated on the end around after the legislature refused to tighten gun control in the French Quarter despite appeals by New Orleans officials that the new permitless concealed carry law will hamstring law enforcement.

"We weren't successful in getting any sort of exemption," Moreno said at a media briefing Monday. "We weren't going to sit on our hands."

So instead they decided to play fast and loose with the law. While the New Orleans Police Department is hosting classes for officers to educate them on the new Constitutional Carry law at the Eighth District precinct, that doesn't automatically make the building a vocational-technical school. Under Louisiana law, all vo-techs must fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges, and at this point it's not clear whether the "school" the NOPD has set up has any official designation at all. Are any courses offered to the general public at the facility? What exactly makes the precinct building a vo-tech... other than the assertions of public officials? 

Even if the precinct building is considered a school, it won't turn the areas around it into a "gun-free zone". Louisiana law does generally forbid carrying a firearm on the grounds or within 1,000 feet of a school, but there are numerous exceptions... including one for those with a valid concealed carry license. 

The provisions of this Section shall not apply to:

            (1) A federal law enforcement officer or a Louisiana-commissioned state or local Post Certified law enforcement officer who is authorized to carry a firearm.

            (2) A school official or employee acting during the normal course of his employment or a student acting under the direction of such school official or employee.

            (3) Any person having the written permission of the principal or as provided in R.S. 17:3361.1.

            (4) The possession of a firearm occurring within one thousand feet of school property and entirely on private property, or entirely within a private residence.

            (5) Any constitutionally protected activity which cannot be regulated by the state, such as a firearm contained entirely within a motor vehicle.

            (6) Any student carrying a firearm to or from a class, in which he is duly enrolled, that requires the use of the firearm in the class.

            (7) A student enrolled or participating in an activity requiring the use of a firearm including but not limited to any ROTC function under the authorization of a university.

            (8) A student who possesses a firearm in his dormitory room or while going to or from his vehicle or any other person with permission of the administration.

            (9) Any person who has a valid concealed handgun permit issued pursuant to R.S. 40:1379.1 or 1379.3 and who carries a concealed handgun within one thousand feet of any school campus.

The only thing New Orleans has accomplished with its attempt to exempt itself from Constitutional Carry is to make it far more confusing for residents and visitors to follow the law. Adding to the chaos, the city also maintains that it will continue to enforce a local ordinance prohibiting permitless carry until August 1st, despite Louisiana's firearm preemption law that prohibits municipalities from enforcing gun laws more restrictive than state statute. 

I expect the NOPD's designation of their French Quarter precinct as a vo-tech school to be challenged; if not in court then by lawmakers and the Attorney General. I also suspect that anyone who is arrested for carrying in the city without a permit after the statewide law takes effect on July 4th is going to have a field day in court challenging the charges. 

We'll see what, if any, response there is from the AG before Thursday. Regardless of any official response from state authorities, New Orleans won't be able to stop Constitutional Carry from taking effect. The most the city can do is hope to curtail permitless carry by making it so confusing that some folks will choose to forgo exercising their right. My guess is that this will be a temporary hiccup, and the city's attempt to do an end-run around state law isn't going to end well for the mayor and her police commissioner.