BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Senate voted Tuesday to end the permitting requirement for people to carry concealed handguns in the state, sending the measure to the House for debate on a near party-line vote and ignoring the governor’s opposition.
The Senate voted 27-11 for the proposal by Sen. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican. GOP senators backed the measure, while all Democrats except Sen. Gary Smith of Norco voted against it.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has indicated he’ll veto the bill if it passes the House and reaches his desk.
The proposal would allow anyone 21 years or older in Louisiana — if the person isn’t barred from having a firearm because of a violent crime conviction or some other legal prohibition — to carry a concealed handgun without needing a permit.
It would do away with the current requirement that gun owners wanting concealed carry have to take several hours of training on gun safety and pay a fee to the Louisiana State Police. The permit would still be available to those who want to get one, including as needed to carry a concealed handgun in other states that have reciprocity agreements with Louisiana.
Supporters say the permitting requirements violate their constitutional rights to bear arms.
“This bill is about liberty. It’s about freedom,” Morris said.
Sen. Jay Luneau, an Alexandria Democrat and avid hunter, noted that Louisiana requires a safety course to get a hunting license in the state, and he said that approach to require safety training for a concealed handgun was appropriate.
“Our freedom and liberty should be exercised with a good dose of common sense, and that’s what we’re lacking here,” Luneau said of Morris’ bill.
Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said she worried about the lost money to the state police and public defender offices that get money from the permit fees. But the Senate voted to bypass a required second Senate committee hearing on the budget implications of the proposal.
The Senate also voted down an effort from New Orleans Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson to rename Morris’ bill the “Thoughts and Prayers Act.” Peterson said that’s what people offer after mass shootings, and she predicted removal of the concealed carry permit requirement would lead to more shootings.
“I’m only trying to make sure that the bill reflects what is about to happen. We’re going to diminish gun safety in our state,” Peterson said. “We might as well offer the thoughts and prayers now.”
Morris said he doesn’t believe allowing unpermitted concealed carry will increase violence.
“If I thought it was going to lead to wholesale lawlessness, I wouldn’t bring this bill. It’s for law-abiding citizens,” he said.
The bill faces high hurdles to becoming law in Louisiana.
Edwards has defended the current permitting process as “the right balance to strike” with its training requirements. If the governor vetoes the bill, Republicans don’t have enough members in the House to override the rejection without picking up support from Democrats or the chamber’s two members without party affiliation.