Law enforcement against expanding gun control

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com

PLAQUEMINE - The Louisiana Legislature considered five bills during the recent session that would have affected nearly every aspect of gun manufacture, possession, use, sale, data collection and disbursement as well as the federal government's authority within state limits.

While only two survived to receive executive approval and federal laws failed, it is clear gun control at all levels is at the forefront of a national debate following mass shootings this past year.

Locally, law enforcement is against expanding gun control.

"Law abiding citizens in this country have always had the right to own and bear arms," Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said. "That is what our founding fathers wanted us to have and I think any erosion of that law is to the detriment of the citizens of Iberville Parish and the State of Louisiana.

"At the same time, the law that keeps criminals from having firearms is working. Honest people deserve the right to own and bear arms and the Second Amendment made sure of that. I feel that is the law of the land."

Two bills designed to supersede federal laws stalled in the Louisiana Legislature with two days left before the session's end.

Most notable on the Legislature's tour of all things gun was House Bill 5, introduced by Republican Jim Morris. Had it lived, it would have made any federal laws or executive orders, enacted after the first of this year, banning or restricting possession or ownership of semi-automatic weapons unenforceable.

"Gun control is not the answer," Iberville Parish Sheriff Chief Deputy Stephen Engolio said. "It will not work. The only thing gun control does is hamper the honest law abiding citizen from protecting himself and his family.

"I have never seen one hardened criminal deterred by gun control laws we already have in place. The mere definition of a criminal tells us they are not going to follow the law. A criminal is not supposed to have a gun at all."

The bill included criminal penalties for enforcement or attempted enforcement of any federal laws or executive orders and required the attorney general to defend a Louisiana citizen found in violation of federal law with regard to semi-automatic weapons.

The very firearm the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office uses to protect themselves, a Glock Model 22 .40 caliber, was included on the original federal ban list because it carries a 15-round magazine.

"At first there wasn't even law enforcement and military clauses in it," Engolio said. "It was added after because they were so radical about passing it, that they didn't even think about that in the first place.

"It is absurd to allow a 10-round magazine but not a 20-round magazine. What is the difference? The bottom line is if you are an honest citizen, who cares if you enjoy shooting assault weapons."

However, Engolio said a previous ban on fully automatic weapons to the general public was the right decision.

"I could see where that could be a safety issue," Engolio said. "It takes a lot of training to be proficient with those and if you are not getting formal training through the military or law enforcement, the average citizen could hurt a lot of people not because of the weapon but because they are not trained."

Enough House lawmakers agreed that the legislation would violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and it failed.

"As far as semi-automatic weapons, I don't think it should matter at all," Engolio said. "I think it is absurd to tell people they can't protect themselves with the same type of gun that we use to protect ourselves with. It is the epitome of hypocrisy for a government official who is protected by very well armed details to sit here and tell people they don't need firearms.

"If something bad is going on at your house and somebody is kicking your front door in, why do I get to use something like that and you don't? Is my life more important than yours? I am not going to be there while he is kicking your door down. I would like to say all of our guys will be but we won't. You have to handle that yourself. We will come after and clean up the mess but if he gets in there and you don't have anything to protect yourself with, anything that we do is not going to help if you or your family is dead, maimed or done bodily harm."

Another proposal aimed at limiting federal authority was House Bill 45, sponsored by Republican Joe Lopinto. It was designed to supersede current federal law with regard to the regulation of firearm sales as well as federal authority to regulate interstate commerce. It established an alternative regulatory structure for the manufacture of firearms, their accessories and ammunition within the boundaries of Louisiana, outlined procedures for the inspection and maintenance of records and would replace current background checks procedure with an alternative system which would originate with state police and provide access to NCIS. The proposal died in the Senate Finance.

"Anything they can to do to hamper you and make it harder on you to buy a gun, make a gun or manufacture a gun is a win for them," Engolio said. "It is nothing but a handicap to a well-established industry that includes sportsmen, gun enthusiasts, competitive shooters, outdoorsman and most importantly, the person that just wants to protect their home."

And though we may hear no more about these two proposals, just in their introduction, they have helped shape the conversation of gun control for Louisiana residents.

Bills that survived to receive executive approval include HB 6, which allows off-duty law enforcement to carry their weapons on school property, at school functions or in gun-free zones and HB 8, which prohibits the release of information found in handgun permit applications, including the identity of any person who has applied for or received that permit.