(The Center Square) — The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice has approved legislation to allow residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoed similar legislation last year.
The committee voted 10-7 on Wednesday to approve House Bill 37, sponsored by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, to remove the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in Louisiana. The bill initially applied to those 18 years old and older, but committee members voted 8-5 to amend the age to 21.
“Louisiana is already an open carry state which allows law-abiding citizens to carry their firearms openly without mandatory training. It has not turned us into the wild, wild west,” McCormick said. “Allowing those same law-abiding women and men to wear a jacket in colder weather or place their firearm in their purse while wearing a dress also will not cause chaos.”
McCormick clarified HB 37 would only apply to people who are already legally allowed to open carry a firearm, while business and property owners will maintain their right to ban guns from their property. He said 25 states now allow for permitless concealed firearms, known as constitutional carry, including all states bordering Louisiana.
Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, posed the question: “What would this bill solve?”
McCormick said HB 37 would remove the financial barriers to concealed carry that currently prevents low-income residents from acquiring a permit.
Dan Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association (LSA), noted that “states that have had constitutional carry — Vermont has had it for 230 years now — have experienced no more issues than permit carry states, which is to say they’ve experienced very, very few issues.”
He also stressed “the permit system will stay in place under this bill. That’s important because the permit system provides us with reciprocity with about 40 other states.”
The cost of Louisiana’s concealed carry permit is $125, the required training costs roughly the same, Zelenka said, and most of the training centers are not located near the state’s larger cities.
“So people who live in big cities who may be on a fixed budget, obtaining a permit has a financial barrier,” he said.
Barret Kendrick, a firearms instructor and LSA board member, told the committee the process also comes with costs for a background check and fingerprints, which often includes a trip to the State Police station in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana State Police Col. Lamar Davis testified on the statistics of concealed carry permits and argued some in Louisiana don’t have the capabilities necessary to carry a concealed firearm.
Last year, the Department of Public Safety issued over 20,000 original five-year concealed handgun permits, over 7,000 lifetime permits and renewed 12,000 permits, for a total of 39,351, he said.
“During that same period the department denied 1,438 permits, revoked 37 permits, and suspended 255 permits,: Davis said.
“That’s important because often times people see us as a money grab, and that’s not it,” he said. “Just like there are some people who do not have the capability to drive on our highways, … there are people that also do not have that same capability to carry concealed.”
Fabian Blache, Jr., executive director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, testified against HB 37, while Baton Rouge Police Deputy Chief of Police Myron Daniels echoed Davis’ “concerns” about eliminating training and education to carry a concealed firearm.
“We already know the gangsters in the urban areas are already packing, we don’t need everyone being allowed to possess a firearm,” Blanche said.
State Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, and other lawmakers on the committee repeatedly argued that law-abiding citizens deserve the right to protect themselves from criminals who disregard the current concealed carry law.
The Louisiana Council of Catholic Bishops, the Louisiana Municipal Association, Louisiana Progress Action, and Moms Demand Action Louisiana opposed the bill. A room full of citizens wearing red shirts, including some who testified, supported the legislation.
HB 37 now moves to the full House for consideration.
Edwards vetoed similar legislation, Senate Bill 118, last session. An effort to override the veto failed in the Senate.