In early July, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a state law prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms. Despite this positive outcome, the case actually illustrates the very real dangers of an alarming trend that has recently emerged in certain parts of the country.
Challenges to the law arose after a dangerous and imprudent amendment was made to Louisiana’s constitution in 2012, requiring that all challenged state gun laws be subject to “strict scrutiny” review— the highest level of judicial review that exists. The Louisiana Constitution, like many other state constitutions, recognizes a right to keep and bear arms. However, in 2012, voters approved an NRA-supported amendment—the first of its kind approved in the U.S.—defining the right as “fundamental” and requiring courts to apply “strict scrutiny” when reviewing firearm regulations.
Because of this new “strict scrutiny” requirement, three convicted felons were able to challenge their convictions under a Louisiana statute which generally bars felons from possessing a firearm for ten years after the completion of their sentence. The challengers to the law in this case had been convicted of a variety of crimes including second degree battery, narcotics trafficking, and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.
The question was whether Louisiana may prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms after serving their sentences. The Louisiana Supreme Court found “beyond question” that this law serves to protect public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are more likely to misuse them. In the words of the court, the case demonstrated that “convicted felons are not only at risk to re-offend, but are at risk to re-offend using firearms.” In upholding the law, the court concluded that “common sense and the public safety allow no other result.”
While it is true that common sense dictated the outcome of this case, it is hard to understand why multiple rounds of expensive litigation were necessary to reach the obvious conclusion that convicted felons should not be permitted to possess guns. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court had already reached this conclusion back in 1977 and was only required to revisit the issue because of Louisiana’s 2012 constitutional amendment. That this suit was made possible in the first place illustrates the inherent dangers of a state amending its constitution to mandate the use of “strict scrutiny” review for firearms regulations. Louisiana’s constitutional amendment has enabled a flood of litigation challenging long-standing and sensible gun laws—such as those keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons—whose constitutionality had been established for decades prior to the amendment.
With laws like this in place, it is no wonder that Louisiana has one of the highest rates of gun death in the nation.
Unfortunately, this is not only an issue for Louisiana: residents of Alabama and Missouri will go to the ballots this November to vote on similar strict scrutiny amendments. If passed, these provisions would enable another landslide of costly, needless litigation challenging common sense laws which save lives and are otherwise constitutional. Americans should learn from Louisiana’s mistake and say no to these dangerous, costly measures.
For more, read about the developments in state gun legislation this year or about other recent examples of extreme gun policies in America.