Louisiana’s Gun Problem

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

A bad guy with a gun opened fire at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana on Thursday night. As of this writing, two of his victims are dead and at least seven others are wounded. No good guy with a gun rose from the audience to fell the lone gunman as he pumped bullet after bullet into the innocent crowd. The man concluded his rampage by turning his handgun on himself and taking his own life.

Louisiana, the state where this occurred, has some of the weakest — if not the weakest — gun laws in the nation. To give just one example, Louisiana recently enacted an NRA-backed state constitutional amendment providing that “[t]he right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed,” and that “any restriction on this right” will be met with maximal skepticism by the states’ courts. The amendment also stripped out language permitting the state legislature to “prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on a person.”

Similarly, Louisiana does not require gun dealers to obtain a state license. It does not limit the number of guns that may be purchased at one time. It forbids local governments from regulating firearms. And it has no laws restricting assault weapons or .50 caliber rifles. One study of all 50 states’ gun laws concluded that Louisiana has the laxest gun laws of any state.

The National Rifle Association claims that this absence of gun regulation is a good thing, in part, because it enables armed vigilantes to gun down murderers like the man who perpetrated the shooting in Lafayette. But the high rates of gun violence in Louisiana cut strongly against this conclusion. A 2013 report by the Center for American Progress examined all 50 states according to 10 factors related to gun violence. Louisiana received the worst rating of any state on several of these factors, including overall firearm deaths from 2001-2010, firearm homicides in 2010, and firearm homicides among women from 2001-2010. The report also rated Louisiana the worst state overall when all 10 factors were aggregated.

Nor is Louisiana, with its lax gun laws and high rates of gun violence, an outlier. To the contrary, the report concluded that “the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have a level of gun violence that is more than twice as high — 104 percent higher — than the 10 states with the strongest gun laws.”