Concealed carry: The issue that triggered rare dissent from Gov. Edwards on gun rights expansion
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards overcame steep odds to become the only Democratic governor in the Deep South in part because of his staunch opposition to abortion and his loyal allegiance to gun owners.
Throughout his first term and into his second the governor has signed virtually every bill that made it to his desk adding abortion restrictions or expanding gun rights.
He signed the "fetal heartbeat" abortion bill in 2019 and found rare common ground with current House Republican Caucus Chair Blake Miguez last year signing his bills that barred local governments from restricting handgun use and stripped the governor's own authority to regulate the manufacture and sale of guns during an emergency.
But Edwards has said he won't support bills gaining momentum in the Legislature that would allow Louisiana gun owners to carry concealed firearms without a permit and training, a rare split with gun rights lobbies like the National Rifle Association.
"That’s the right balance to strike, and I feel very strongly about that," Edwards said of the current concealed carry law last week. "I also feel very strongly that a considerable majority of the people in Louisiana support the system we currently have."
But the full Louisiana Senate ignored Edwards' veto threat Tuesday night to pass Senate Bill 118 by Monroe Republican Sen. Jay Morris on a 27-11 veto-proof margin that would remove the requirement for a permit.
Similar bills cleared the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday morning, but Morris' measure has moved the farthest in the process.
Morris said the governor's staff told him they will try to kill his bill in the House, but Morris said he hopes to have a chance to change Edwards' mind.
"I'd like to speak to the governor to explain my bill and why it aligns in many ways with his previous positions," said Morris, whose measure would allow adults 21 and older to carry concealed handguns without a permit. "Hopefully I can convince him to change his mind."
Twenty states currently allow what's known as "constitutional carry" by supporters, which means gun owners can carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Gun owners in Louisiana can legally carry guns without permits if they are visible, but must have a permit to carry concealed firearms.
Morris emphasized gun owners could still choose to secure concealed carry permits, which can allow for Louisianans to cross state borders where concealed carry is legal, if his bill becomes law.
Only those with permits could carry concealed weapons into restaurants serving alcohol or within 1,000 feet of schools. Permits also allow those who have them to forego background checks when buying guns.
Experts testified that the costs of the current required nine-hour training course, other fees and fingerprints range from $225 to $325.
Supporters believe requiring permits infringes on their 2nd Amendment rights, while opponents like those representing the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police warned allowing concealed carry without permits elevates the potential of illegal gun violence or accidental shootings.
"We shouldn't have to ask permission to exercise our constitutional rights," Morris said. "This is about personal rights and freedoms."
But Alexandria Democratic Sen. Jay Luneau, who voted against Morris' bill, said freedom and liberty "should be exercised with a good dose of common sense."
"That’s what we’re lacking here,” Luneau said.
Dan Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association, testified in favor of the bills in both the House and Senate.
"It's a law that's time has come," Zelenka said. "You're going to hear testimony that the sky will fall and blood will flow through the streets if you pass this bill. Those dire predictions have proven to have been unfounded."
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.