A Louisiana judge ruled on Thursday that a state law banning felons from possessing firearms is a violation of the State Constitution [text, PDF]. The ruling cited a constitutional amendment [text] that was passed last year through referendum, making the right to bear arms a fundamental right in Louisiana. The Orleans Parish public defenders office [official website] challenged the constitutionality of the statute on behalf of six clients all charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. In his decision, Judge Darryl Derbigny concluded that the recent amendment to the state constitution heightened the level of scrutiny that courts must use when considering gun control laws. The amendment declares the right to bear arms is a fundamental right in Louisiana, putting it on par with rights such as the freedom of speech and religion, that are evaluated based on strict scrutiny. Derbigny ruled that the statute infringed on constitutional protections when analyzed under a strict scrutiny test. The issue will now go to the Louisiana Supreme Court [official website], which must decide whether or not the statute infringes on state citizens' right to gun possession.
Gun control has remained a controversial issue in recent years, especially since the since the Newtown, Connecticut shooting [WSJ backgrounder] in December. In November when Louisiana voted to approve the constitutional amendment [JURIST report], it created the strongest protection of the right to keep and bear arms in the nation. This week Colorado governor signed three bills into law [JURIST report] which seek to address gun violence. Earlier this month the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved [JURIST report] two gun control measures which would require background checks for private gun sales and improve security at schools. Also this month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] spoke before Congress [JURIST report] urging passage of gun control measures, including universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines and military style assault weapons. In January, President Obama [official website] signed 23 executive orders [JURIST report] intended to strengthen existing gun laws and urged congress to take up gun control measures. The previous day, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [official website] signed legislation [JURIST report] intended to impose tighter restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, banning any magazine that can hold more than seven rounds and implementing instant background checks on all ammunition purchases at the time of sale.