I’ve noticed lately that anti-gun journalists have been kvetching about House Bill 48, filed by Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton), which they say will allow concealed carry holders to bring firearms into restaurants that serve alcohol.
“Last week House members approved a bill by Rep. Henry Burns that would allow folks with concealed carry permits to take their weapons into places that serve alcohol,” wrote Jarvis DeBerry in a column published late last month. DeBerry admits that although concealed-carry holders are generally law-abiding, “we don’t have to equate gun enthusiasts with the worst of society to question their desire to take their weapons everywhere.”
DeBerry was backed up three days later by James Gill, who noted that “[t]here are still places where you can’t carry a concealed weapon.” He then proceeded to mock Burn’s bill, quipping that “[t]he odd fatality is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes from armed dining.”
This commentary was a bit odd given the fact that House Bill 48 didn’t even mention carrying a concealed firearm. House Bill 48 merely amends La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.5(B), which presently bars the possession of firearms in any business that sells alcohol for consumption on the premises, “whether or not such sales are a primary or incidental purpose of the business of the establishment.”
House Bill 48 would amend La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.5(B) to apply only to those businesses with a Class-A “General Retail” permit, businesses that earn a majority of their revenues from serving alcohol for consumption on the premises. A Class-A “General Retail” permit is generally held by bars and taverns, not restaurants. Restaurants normally have a Class-A “Restaurant” permit, reserved for businesses that serve alcohol for consumption on the premises but earn a majority of their revenues from other sources (i.e., serving food).
However, La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.5(B) doesn’t mention concealed carry. It predates statute-issued concealed carry permits. And more importantly, carrying a concealed firearm into a restaurant that serves alcohol is already legal.
Here’s the reason: Under La. Rev. Stat. 40:1379.3, Louisiana’s state-issued concealed-carry permitting statute, a concealed-carry licensee is only specifically prohibited from carrying a firearm in a business with a Class-A “General Retail” permit. Thus, there is an apparent conflict between Louisiana’s concealed-carry law and La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.5(B).
On its face, the concealed-carry statute seems to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry in restaurants with a Class-A “Restaurant” permit. If for no other reason, this is true due to the old legal maxim “expressio unius est exclusio alterius” – the expression of one is exclusion of the other. If the legislature specifically stated that concealed carry-permit holders could not carry in businesses with Class-A “General Retail” permits, it can be presumed that it intended to exclude other classifications of businesses that serve alcohol for consumption on the premises.
Furthermore, the canons of legal interpretation apply specific laws over general laws, and newer laws over older ones. They also resolve ambiguities in criminal law in favor of the accused, not the state. The laws specifically governing concealed-carry are newer and more specific, therefore they are more applicable. And at best, the legislature’s decision to single out Class-A “General Retail” establishments creates an ambiguity and renders the law unclear.
Thus, House Bill 48 was not about concealed-carry at all. Not only did it not mention concealed-carry, but at best it only eliminated an ambiguity in favor of the outcome required by Louisiana law. DeBerry and Gill were tilting at windmills.
The question remains, why did DeBerry and Gill completely misinterpret House Bill 48? Well, it’s because their employer did.
On April 25, 2013, two days before DeBerry’s column hit the presses and five days before Gill’s did, the Times-Picayune ran a piece that started: “Gun owners in Louisiana would be able to carry concealed weapons into restaurants that sell alcohol under a bill passed by the House on Thursday morning.” The TP wasn’t alone; a news affiliate in Lafayette, KATC, reported the same day that “the House [had] backed a proposal to let people carry concealed weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol.”
Nevertheless, the text of House Bill 48 was available online. It’s in plain English. There was no reason to think it was restricted to concealed-carry permit holders. Still, that bit of misinformation – that HB 48 was some novel expansion of concealed carry – became the conventional wisdom and bore two entirely useless columns that completely misstated the substance of the issue.
The Times-Picayune subsequently corrected its error (without admitting that it had erred at all) by suggesting that misunderstanding originated in the legislature, not in the media. On May 1, 2013, the TP printed another article noting that “many lawmakers were unaware of the implications of the committee amendment and believed the bill they passed only applied to concealed-carry permit holders.”
According to the TP, the committee amendment was proposed by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, who is now claiming that the legislation will be further revised in the Senate to apply only to concealed-carry permit holders.
If Moreno is right, then the legislation will (again) merely cure an ambiguity in the same way the law already requires. Applying La. Rev. Stat. 14:95.5(B) to concealed-carry permit holders in its current form would violate due process, and cleaning up the law to avoid improper enforcement is certainly a noble goal. However, even on this level DeBerry and Gill’s commentary was poor. Both ignored the issue of poorly-written criminal statutes in favor of asinine histrionics about what a backward state we live in for letting people eat out while carrying a concealed firearm.
If Moreno is wrong, then HB 48 is less about concealed-carry and more about open-carry, which it regulates directly. Open-carry has been recognized as a constitutional right in Louisiana since the 1970’s, but it is still subject to basic state laws on where firearms can be possessed. DeBerry and Gill completely missed this issue, even though it was more prominent and represented a greater liberalization of gun laws.
What I take from all of this is just how ignorant and disinterested the anti-gun crowd tends to be. It’s all knee-jerk, bumper-sticker argumentation. There’s too much snark and too little investigation. They speak before they’ve had time to think.
It’s the root of the animosity between the gun rights crowd and those who urge tighter controls. It happens every time a semi-automatic rifle is improperly dubbed a “machine gun” or conflated with actual military weaponry. It happens whenever any loosening of restrictions, no matter how minor, evokes “Wild West” comparisons (ironic, given that old West towns often barred the carrying of firearms).
It happens because there’s a certain dishonesty that pervades, and has always pervaded, those supportive of gun control. You can’t work with people you neither trust nor respect, and I see nothing to trust or respect here.
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.