It’s nighttime. You awake to a noise outside. Is it a prowler? You aren’t sure. You grab a small pistol from your nightstand and shove it in your pocket as you proceed out to your driveway to investigate the disturbance. If it’s nothing, you reason, you don’t want to be walking around in plain view with a gun in your hand.
Congratulations. You just committing the crime of carrying a weapon illegally, and you did it without ever leaving your own property.
This is what the Louisiana First Circuit held in State v. Young in 1985. La. Rev. Stat. 14:95 prohibits “[t]he intentional concealment of any firearm, or other instrumentality customarily used or intended for probable use as a dangerous weapon, on one’s person.” There are no exceptions to this in the statute, not even for carrying a firearm in your own home or on your own property.
In Young, the defendant was walking to his car in his own driveway. Unbeknownst to him, a state trooper was simultaneously approaching to serve him with a warrant for receiving stolen property. The officer searched the defendant and found a .22 caliber revolver on his person. He was tried and convicted of violating La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.
On appeal, the conviction was upheld against a constitutional challenge. Although Article I, Section 11 of the Louisiana Constitution guarantees the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms, it also clearly provides that “this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person.” The Court held that the defendant “was carrying a concealed weapon” and that it “was being carried when the defendant walked down his driveway.” Thus, the elements of the statute were satisfied and it was not unconstitutional as applied.
To a man. In his own driveway.
State v. Young is not an aberration, either. Louisiana decisions on the right to bear arms have been almost comically dismissive. Although there is typically a presumption against statutes that conflict with established rights, the Louisiana Supreme Court allows laws designed to “protect the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare so long as that regulation is a reasonable one.” This language has effectively nullified the right.
This November we have the opportunity to rewrite Louisiana’s right to keep and bear arms to render this bad law. Acts 874 will eliminate the language permitting laws against concealment of weapons. It also will provide that the right to keep and bear arms is “fundamental” and subject to “strict scrutiny” as opposed to the present “reasonableness” review.
Nevertheless, Acts 874 has drawn criticism and opposition from officials and pundits. Recently Times-Picayune columnist James Gill opined that Acts 874 “was drafted on the manifestly insane pretext that the Second Amendment and the current state Constitution fail to provide adequate protection for gun owners.”
Mr. Gill and others seems to be unaware of the fact that the state Constitution, as presently construed, provides few protections for gun owners at all. Moreover, although the tide has been turning on the federal front, Second Amendment jurisprudence remains in its infancy. Given the unresolved nature of constitutional protections, it only stands to reason that Louisiana gun owners would seek additional protections.
Then again, there’s more to Acts 874 than this. As I noted in a previous column, its language would likely create “constitutional carry,” meaning that the state could no longer require permits to carry a concealed firearm. This is a major shift and Louisianans should be aware of it, but it’s the same state of affairs that exists in several other states.
But in a state where I can’t carry a concealed weapon in my own driveway, it’s ludicrous to suggest that legal protections for gunowners are indisputably adequate. From my perspective, state protections for gun rights are tenuous at best and need to be bolstered. That’s why I’ll be voting “yes” on Acts 874.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.