Unprecedented Protection for Gun Rights on the Ballot
Louisiana voters will decide Tuesday on nine state constitutional amendments.
Amendment Two seeks to change Louisiana's regulations of firearms. If passed, Louisiana would have the strongest Second Amendment protection in the nation.
Sure protecting the right to bear arms may look good on paper, but is that all this amendment will do?
At Jim's Firearms store in Baton Rouge, a glass case filled with handguns runs along most of the 800-square-foot showroom. Behind it rifles and shotguns are racked up on the walls.
General Manager Cid Dillard pulls down a black shotgun.
"As we remove it from the shelf we always, always, always make sure there's nothing in the chamber," said Dillard. "[So what's this one?] This is actually a Mossberg 590, I do believe, home defense shot gun."
Dillard said handguns and tactical long guns, such as assault rifles, are what they sell the most.
"With the rise in crime throughout the Baton Rouge area over the last couple of years, people are becoming more and more in-tuned to what they need to do to protect themselves," said Dillard.
Crime stats from the Baton Rouge Police Department report violent crime in 2011 was at a 5-year low. However, the number of assaults have remained in the 1,400 to 1,500 range during that same time and the number of robberies has held steady at about a thousand a year. A survey released in June by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation reported people feeling less safe and more concerned that crime will worsen.
Dillard said the ability to purchase and own a gun doesn't need to be more difficult, so he's voting "Yes" for Amendment Two this election.
But Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman says the amendment could erase the legislature's ability to regulate weapons all together.
If the amendment passes and challenges are brought against current firearm restrictions, Bowman said the court would be forced to reinterpret those laws. This could lead to the gutting of laws and ordinances banning firearms in places such as schools, government buildings and bars.
It could even render unconstitutional the criminal statute that says firearms need to be registered.
"Someone will get arrested for violation of that law after this constitutional amendment is enacted and I suspect strongly that their attorney will file a challenge saying that law is no longer constitutional," said Bowman.
Bowman said he can't predict how the Louisiana Supreme Court would litigate such a situation but he thinks it would be much easier to argue someone doesn't have to register their gun if the proposed amendment passes.
All these implications, Bowman said, would inevitably add up to a rise in violent crime.
Senator Neil Riser, who proposed the amendment, said the measure is needed to bring Louisiana in line with a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared the right to bear arms is fundamental.
Riser's proposed amendment adds the words, "fundamental right" to Article I, Section 11 of the Louisiana constitution, and requires any attempt to infringe upon that right to pass a "strict scrutiny" test. That's the highest form of judicial review used to determine the constitutionality of a law.
Riser said the change is directed at future legislators.
"We don't know when someone might come in and pass a state law and try to ban handguns in the home," said Riser. "So what we want to do is go in and concur with the United States Constitution."
"I don't think this brings Louisiana in line with the Supreme Court statements at all. I think it goes beyond."
That's Second Amendment expert and LSU Professor Raymond Diamond. He said the Supreme Court did not require a strict scrutiny test when they decided the right to bear arms is fundamental. Riser did that when he proposed the amendment because strict scrutiny has been applied to rights like free speech.
But Diamond said what Riser is doing is unprecedented, so there's no way to know what it will lead to.
"There is no question that this amendment will change Louisiana law in ways that are quite unsure," said Diamond.
Jim's Firearms Store Manager Cid Dillard said he won't be too disappointed if the amendment doesn't pass. He's actually pretty content with the status quo.
"Because right now we can buy just about anything we want. Just as long as we do the proper proceedings to buy that weapon," said Dillard.