Early on a warm Saturday morning, handgun owners from across St. Charles Parish and beyond showed up at the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center to fire at targets at a free Killona gun range.
Toby Trevett, who spent more than 41 years as a detective for the Union Pacific Railroad and is a former auxiliary deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, pulled three pistols out of a bag he carried to the range.
Trevett picked up his favorite gun, a Sig 20 .45 caliber.
"It’s my gun of choice. It’s what I carried in my last 20 years on the railroad. I shot over 10,000 rounds through this gun," he said.
Trevett unloaded numerous rounds into a target placed 15 yards away.
"The more practice you have in the event that you have a problem with an assailant is more of a chance that you’ll be able to take care of business," Trevett said. "Having a handgun and not shooting it is like having a car and not driving it."
Gun law changes in the works
Prompted by high profile mass shootings in the last year, action is underway on the federal level concerning the possible passage of more restrictive gun laws.
A recent nationwide poll by Time Magazine/CNN found that although 49 percent of people live in a household with a gun, 55 percent of those polled said they favored stricter gun control laws.
The U.S. Senate has revived an effort to reenact an assault weapons ban that was originally signed into law in 1994, but not renewed in 2004.
St. Charles Parish resident John Sherill, a computer software developer and former part-time deputy for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said he doesn’t believe further gun control measures are necessary.
"They are really ‘feel good’ legislation designed to control people," he said. "That’s the problem I see there."
Despite recent shootings, which included the murder of two deputies in St. John Parish last August, Sherill said he is wary of a change in gun laws.
"I don’t trust the administration – any administration that would want to take away my rights to protect myself," he said.
A reenactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would make it illegal to manufacture and import military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 used in both the Sandy Hook mass shooting and the Aurora theater shooting along with the AK-47 used to kill deputies in St. John Parish, including St. Charles Parish resident Brandon Nielsen.
In addition, the 1994 law outlawed high capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. In the Aurora, Colo. theater shootings the gunman used a 100-round magazine.
Sherill said high capacity magazines make sense for his personal protection.
"If someone breaks into my house and there are several of them, I don’t think I want to be limited to the number of bullets I may have in a magazine to protect myself," Sherill said.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment that guarantees U.S. citizens the right to bear arms.
"As an executive officer of the National Sheriff’s Association, I helped draft the NSA position on gun control legislation at our January meeting. It passed the board of directors unanimously," Champagne said.
The document produced by the NSA says that the organization supports the Second Amendment and judicial oversight of any laws passed that govern the ownership of guns. The NSA says that the 3,080 sheriffs nationwide who belong to the organization do not support any laws that deprive any citizen of rights provided by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
"I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a life member of the NRA. I don’t feel the current gun control measures will do anything to reduce gun violence," Champagne said.
According to the NSA document Champagne helped draft, the cause of gun violence must be addressed on many fronts, including "improved mental health treatment, media violence, drugs, gangs, breakdown of the family, strengthening laws that prevent or reduce the access of legally prohibited persons to firearms and vigorous enforcement of existing laws."
In addition to the laws being proposed on the federal level, numerous bills concerning gun control on the state level have also been pre-filed in Louisiana in advance of the 2013 legislative session set to convene on Monday, April 8. Gov. Bobby Jindal has already said he will push for legislation that will authorize the state to report mental health eligibility to the National Instant Background Check System. Jindal’s plan is included in House Bill 21, authored by Rep. Henry L. Burns (R– Haughton). The bill would require that information on mental health issues be submitted to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the FBI.
Sherill said such a bill might deter those with mental health issues from seeking help.
"When they start doing that a lot of people who need help won’t get it because they won’t open their mouth to take the chance," he said.
Burns’ bill is one of two on the state level that could be seen as restricting gun ownership.
The other bill is HB4, proposed by Rep. Barbara M. Norton (D–Shreveport), which would require gun owners to keep their weapons locked in a container or have a trigger lock when not being carried or in use.
The other five bills that have been pre-filed would expand gun rights.
Those include HB6 and HB48, which would both allow law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons while off-duty into places they ordinarily would not be allowed to do so – schools and establishments that serve alcoholic beverages.
HB98 would allow those who receive handgun permits in one parish to carry their handguns in adjacent parishes pursuant to agreements between sheriff’s offices.
The final two bills would require local law enforcement officers to disregard federal laws concerning gun control.
Rep. James Morris (R–Oil City) authored HB5, which makes federal regulations or executive orders that ban or restrict semi-automatic firearms not enforceable in Louisiana. In fact, the bill includes a clause that if any law enforcement officer in Louisiana were to enforce federal firearms rules, they could be subject to up to two years in prison or a $5,000 fine.
Similarly, HB45 by Rep. Joseph Lopinto (R–Metairie) provides that the selling or manufacturing of firearms and gun accessories are not subject to federal regulation as long as they never leave the state. The bill proposes an alternative regulatory agency that would subject Louisiana-made firearms to Louisiana law alone.
Given that the legislative session has not started yet and is set to last until early June, Champagne said he is not willing to comment on any of the pre-filed bills yet.
The Herald-Guide will provide more coverage on the issue in April.