Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed legislation that would have allowed Louisiana residents 21 and older to carry concealed firearms without a permit, adding fuel to a growing movement among conservative lawmakers to hold what would be the state’s first veto override session.
The measure would have done away with the mandatory background check and firearms safety training course currently required to carry a concealed firearm. It faced vehement opposition from law enforcement leaders, but sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan majorities. The Senate approved it 27-9 followed by the House 73-28.
Louisiana already allows residents to carry a firearm without a permit, but only if that weapon is exposed and visible to the public. When a firearm is hidden beneath clothing or stowed away in a purse, a permit is required.
Edwards’ veto didn’t come as a surprise. The Deep South’s only Democratic governor repeatedly said throughout the legislative session that he opposed the gun rights expansion.
“Our current system strikes the right balance of ensuring that people can bear arms while also keeping reasonable permitting and training processes in place,” Edwards said in a statement. “It is not too much to ask that a person who wishes to carry a concealed weapon in public be required to attend basic marksmanship and safety training so they understand the regulations associated with such an action.”
Opponents of the measure said that lifting the permit requirement would unleash a flurry of untrained gunowners onto the streets. Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul called it an “officer safety issue,” and said that without the required safety course, residents wouldn’t understand the responsibility they have to inform law enforcement of their firearm when approached.
“The bottom line is: we’re not opposed to concealed carry. We’re opposed to concealed carry without education and without training,” said Fabian Blache Jr., executive director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police.
Edwards, the son of a Tangipahoa Parish sheriff, called it a “matter of basic public safety” and said it could pose an enhanced risk to officer safety.
The National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists argued that the fees associated with obtaining a permit are a financial barrier for poor residents wanting to exercise their constitutional rights. The Louisiana State Police charges $125 for the five-year permit and training courses can cost up to $200.
Permitless carry emerged as a top priority for GOP-dominated legislatures across the country in recent months, against a backdrop of historic gun sales amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Governors in Texas, Tennessee and Utah recently signed such measures into law.
Sen. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican who sponsored Senate Bill 118, billed the “constitutional carry” legislation as a no-brainer extension of citizen’s existing Second Amendment Rights.
“It advances the freedom of people to defend their loved ones, themselves and their property,” Morris said.
Both sides of the debate seized on Louisiana’s soaring gun violence to back up their arguments: police chiefs said the legislation would make the problem worse while supporters positioned it as a matter of self-defense.
Edwards’ decision to nix the gun rights expansion is expected to intensify demands among right-wing lawmakers for a special veto override session. Those discussions kicked off Tuesday after the Democratic governor vetoed a bill that would have barred transgender athletes from participating on school sports teams that match their gender identity.
“I’m doing everything I can to get support for an override,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican who sponsored the ban on transgender athletes. “It’s a fluid situation.”
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, threw his weight behind a mid-July meeting in a statement Tuesday afternoon, though he noted that convening an override session “requires a majority of members of the House and Senate to be in agreement.”
Senate President Page Cortez, meanwhile, took a more cautious approach. He said Friday that he wouldn’t weigh in until leadership in the upper chamber receives formal notice from the governor’s office of the vetoes.
“I am going to make a statement, but I cannot do it until I get an official notification of the vetoes,” said Cortez, a Lafayette Republican.
An override session is automatically teed up in Louisiana once the governor vetoes legislation, but it can be scrapped with a majority written vote of lawmakers in either the House or Senate. Never before in Louisiana’s history have lawmakers returned to Baton Rouge after adjournment to overturn a governor’s veto.
With overwhelming support in the House, prospects of a veto session appear to rest in the hands of the Senate.
“We’re all talking about it. We’re a quieter bunch. We don’t talk as loudly and openly as the House members do,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican. “There’s more interest in a veto session than I’ve ever heard before.”
The list of disgruntled lawmakers could grow longer as Edwards sifts through the stack of outstanding legislation sitting on his desk. That includes a proposal banning discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status and another that promotes a scientifically dubious abortion pill “reversal” procedure.
But will those issues be enough for lawmakers to return to Baton Rouge for up to five summer days, beginning July 20?
Several lawmakers said the best predictor of a veto session will be Edwards’ decision on an infrastructure proposal, put together in the last minutes of the legislative session, that would eventually shift $300 million per year away from the state general fund and into roads and bridges.
“I think that’s going to be the issue that drives it,” Mizell said.
Even if lawmakers agree to return to Baton Rouge, it’s unclear if they’ll have the votes necessary to reverse the governor. It take a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto, and while the Senate can reach that threshold with only Republicans, a unified GOP in the House would also need support from at least two independents or Democrats.
“I greatly doubt the caucus would seek to override the governor’s vetoes,” said Shreveport Rep. Sam Jenkins, who heads up the House Democratic Caucus.
Staff Writers Will Sentell and Sam Karlin contributed to this story.