BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers are launching a counteroffensive to federal efforts to put new limits on guns, setting up a statewide opposition campaign and proposing to ban enforcement of any new restrictions on semi-automatic firearms.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, recently announced an effort called “Defend Louisiana” that he said is designed to defend gun ownership rights in Louisiana.
“If we don’t stand strong to defend our Second Amendment rights, they’re going to be eroded away slowly, sort of like a tide that creeps in,” Thompson said. “We don’t need to whittle away at law-abiding citizens’ rights.”
The effort is aimed at President Barack Obama’s push to ban military-style assault weapons, require background checks on all firearms purchases and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds after the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
Louisiana has embarked on efforts to review school safety procedures, but Thompson and other lawmakers, nearly all Republicans, say the response shouldn’t include gun restrictions.
Five Republican lawmakers are seeking to pass state legislation that would declare any federal law or regulation that limits ownership or possession of a semi-automatic weapon or ammunition or requires registration of those items to be “unenforceable within the borders of the state of Louisiana.”
Rep. Helena Moreno, a Democrat and vice chair of the House criminal justice committee, questioned the worth of such a statement from the Legislature.
“I’m pretty certain that we can’t just pick and choose which federal laws we can follow and which we can’t,” she said.
Similar bills are being talked about in other states. Thompson acknowledged if the measure passed, it likely would end up in court.
But, he said, “That’s a debate worth having and litigation worth pursuing.”
The federal law nullification measure and Thompson’s proposal to create criminal penalties for anyone who publishes the names of concealed carry permit holders will be considered in the legislative session that begins in April.
They are expected to be among several proposals in the debate about gun control.
Moreno, D-New Orleans, said she doesn’t expect the criminal justice committee to deal with much besides gun issues when the Legislature returns for its regular session. But she doesn’t expect any bills that would limit gun ownership or specific types of weapons to win passage in the Legislature, which has rejected similar ideas repeatedly over the years.
Louisiana is a gun-friendly state, nicknamed the “Sportsman’s Paradise” at least in part for the popularity of hunting among generations of families. Nearly three-quarters of the state’s voters recently agreed to a tougher constitutional hurdle for restricting weapons, removing a provision that gave lawmakers explicit authority to limit concealed handguns.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is a gun owner and supported the recent constitutional change.
“The governor believes it is unwise and unconstitutional to further restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms, and he would support reasonable efforts to stop that from happening. He does support efforts to ensure individuals with serious mental health issues do not have access to firearms,” spokesman Sean Lansing said in a statement.
Louisiana ranks among the top in the nation for gun ownership, with about 46 percent of households armed, according to data from the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group in Washington. The organization says Louisiana also has one of the highest rates of gun deaths, with 19 gun deaths for every 100,000 people, suggesting the two figures are tied.
As talk began about potential changes to federal gun laws after the Connecticut school shooting, requests for concealed handgun permits in Louisiana spiked, according to the Louisiana State Police.
Capt. Doug Cain, a state police spokesman, said the agency averaged 875 concealed carry applications each month from January to October of 2012. In December and January, applications have risen to more than 2,000 each month.