As wrangling over the outcome of gun safety legislation in the Senate reaches a fever pitch, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) has been quiet on where she stands. Her home state, though, exemplifies the real risk weak gun laws pose–not only to residents, but also to the men and women charged with protecting them.
Gun laws in Louisiana prevent the state’s law enforcement officers from doing their jobs, and put them at a much greater risk of gun violence. Last November, the state passed an NRA-backed ballot initiative that enshrined gun ownership in the constitution and removed provisions that prohibited certain individuals, such as domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill, from carrying a concealed weapon. In March, a judge ruled that the amendment outlawed a “state statute forbidding certain felons from possessing firearms,” noting that “The courts cannot question the wisdom of fundamental law and frustrate the will of the people.”
This new law makes it easier for dangerous people to possess guns and endangers law enforcement officials. But Louisiana has long been a trail-blazer for weak gun laws. Prior to this amendment’s passage, the state denied giving law enforcement discretion when issuing concealed handgun permits and a slew of other weak regulations have ranked the state among the worst in the nation on key measures of gun trafficking as determined by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A new study released last week by the Center for American Progress analyzed 10 key measures of gun violence and found that Louisiana is worst among the 50 states. Included in the report is a 50-state ranking of law enforcement feloniously killed by guns: Louisiana ranks second worst in the nation behind South Dakota.
The Newtown tragedy has woken legislators across the country up to the need for sensible gun violence prevention measures. Landrieu, recognizing the important role law enforcement plays, has said that “some of the most respected law enforcement leaders in our country are calling for commonsense reforms.” Among the most obvious and effective of these reforms is to require every gun buyer to go through a mandatory criminal background check. Universal background checks, which enjoy support from 85 percent of Louisianans, would help prevent criminals and other dangerous people from having easy access to guns. And they would cut down on illegal gun trafficking by holding straw purchasers accountable for giving guns to criminals. But of course, the law must require the firearm sellers conducting background checks to keep a record; otherwise, law enforcement would once again be undercut by having no method to enforce the law.
The NRA often says that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But in states like Louisiana, no single group has done more than the NRA to put guns in the hands of bad guys. That puts the good guys with guns — like our law enforcement officers — and good guys without guns at a higher risk. Universal background checks, as evidence has shown, are a meaningful and uncontroversial measure that would make Louisiana a safer place and protect those charged with protecting us.
Charles Posner is the State Communications Assistant in the ThinkProgress War Room.