NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has punted on its first chance to decide whether a new state constitutional provision declaring gun possession a fundamental right could void a long list of criminal statutes that regulate firearms.
The court, in an 18-page ruling Tuesday, scrapped a lower court's finding that the state law forbidding felons from having firearms is now unconstitutional. But, The Advocate reports the opinion hinges on the specific circumstances of a single case, ignoring the larger question of whether the law is constitutional.
The court said the felon-in-possession law, at least in the case of Glen Draughter, of New Orleans, is reasonable, even in light of a change to the state's constitution strengthening gun rights.
The Times-Picayune reports Draughter was convicted in 2011 of attempted simple burglary, and under state law he was barred from having guns. District Judge Darryl Derbigny revoked his probation on grounds that he violated a requirement that he refrain from criminal activity.
That's when his attorney, Colin Reingold asked Derbigny to toss the charge on constitutional grounds. Derbigny then dismissed the charges against Draughter, and the state appealed.
The case now returns to Derbigny's court, where Draughter will face the gun charge.
The Advocate said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, a vocal opponent of the constitutional amendment, had warned that it would open all of the state's 80 gun laws to constitutional challenges, and his prediction quickly came true: The amendment prompted a barrage of legal challenges to all of the state's major gun laws. At least three judges so far have found statutes unconstitutional, and each of the cases is making its way to the Supreme Court.
The high court must, eventually, decide which laws remain constitutional and which, if any, must be rewritten or abandoned.
In the Draughter case, however, the court seized on a technicality, thereby leaving in place the constitutional confusion over gun charges.
"This is a very narrowly drawn opinion," said Raymond Diamond, an LSU law professor and Second Amendment scholar. "It gives us very few hints of where they'll go with other firearms restrictions in the future."
He said the limited ruling could indicate the court plans to rule on the gun challenges on a case-by-case basis, which could extend the controversy for years.
The court decided the Draughter case based on the defendant's probation status.
"For these persons still under state supervision, we easily find there to be a compelling state interest for the state's limited infringement of even fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to possess a firearm," Justice Marcus Clark wrote on behalf of the court.
Reingold, the New Orleans public defender representing Draughter, said defense lawyers will pick another defendant — someone who wasn't on probation when caught with a gun — and try again to get the question before the Supreme Court.
The high court, meanwhile, has other gun laws to sort out. It has agreed to consider the constitutionality of the law banning possession of a firearm while in possession of controlled dangerous substances. It heard oral arguments Tuesday on the crime of juvenile possession of a firearm.
Diamond, and other court watchers, believe that, of all the state's gun laws, the felon-in-possession statute is the least likely to fall. Many suspect the law requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon is at the other end of the spectrum, but a challenge to that law has not yet made its way to the high court.
"This was about the easiest case they could decide," Diamond said. "The next case won't be so easy."