Dangerous Constitutional Amendment Allows Convicted Felons to Challenge Common Sense Gun Laws

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Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune

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.”

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Alabama Legislature Puts Irresponsible Measure Before Voters

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Last year, the Louisiana voters’ approved a constitutional amendment that made it easier for criminals to challenge the state’s gun laws in court. The amendment was the first in the nation to require courts considering state constitutional challenges to gun laws to apply “strict scrutiny,” the highest judicial standard. This year, five states introduced similar measures. The legislation failed in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota, but succeeded in Alabama where it will be put before the voters during the next election. These amendments are extremely dangerous because they require courts to use a nearly insurmountable standard for all firearms laws. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has not required courts to use the level of scrutiny required by these measures.

In fact, several months after approval of the amendment in Louisiana, an Orleans Parish judge overturned the conviction of a felon who had been found in possession of an AK-47. The judge ruled that the state law prohibiting a convicted felon from possessing a firearm did not pass the high standard imposed by the new constitutional provision.  If voters approve the Alabama amendment, similar results are likely.

The moves by these states are especially alarming given that Louisiana has the second, and Alabama the third, highest gun death rate per capita in the United States. By making it nearly impossible to regulate firearms in these states, there is little hope that these tragic gun death rates will fall in the near future.

Want to know more? Check out other recent examples of extreme gun laws and policies in America on our Extremism in Action page.

Louisiana’s Latest Failure: Amendment to State Constitution May Make It Easier to Challenge Gun Laws

Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune

On Election Day, the voters of Louisiana approved a ballot initiative that may make it easier for criminals to challenge the state’s gun laws in court. That NRA-sponsored initiative – the first of its kind in the nation – amended the state constitution’s right to bear arms provision to force courts considering state constitutional challenges to gun laws to apply “strict scrutiny,” the highest judicial standard.

The new provision is outrageous because it will require courts to review laws under a certain standard, rather than letting them decide for themselves what standard to use, as they traditionally have done. Strict scrutiny is often described as “strict in theory, fatal in fact,” because the vast majority of laws subject to strict scrutiny are found to be unconstitutional. Even the Supreme Court has not advocated for the use of strict scrutiny in cases evaluating laws under the Second Amendment. Requiring such a high standard could jeopardize even modest laws to reduce gun violence in Louisiana. This is especially alarming in a state that, in 2010, had the second highest number of firearm deaths per capita.

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