Gun-rights supporters in Louisiana were dealt a surprising setback on Tuesday.
Multiple senators who voted to pass a permitless concealed carry bill flipped their votes during a first-of-its-kind veto override session. Republicans Patrick Connick, Louie Bernard, Franklin Foil, and Democrat Gary Smith switched sides on the vote in order to block the override. A fourth Republican who voted for the initial bill, Ronnie Johns, was also absent for the override vote due to surgery.
“At the end of the day, the legislature got it right,” Governor John Bel Edwards (D.) told WAFB after the override session ended on Wednesday.
The failed override means Louisianans will still need to obtain a permit from the state to carry a concealed firearm legally. It also marks the first major defeat for permitless-carry advocates this year. It signals the difficulty those advocates face as they attempt to expand the adoption of permitless carry beyond states where Republicans control all levers of the lawmaking process.
Permitless carry has become the fastest-growing state gun policy since 2010, with 19 states adopting it in that time. In 2021 alone, five states have gone permitless, with Texas being the largest among them. Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Indiana are the only states where Republicans run the legislature and governorship that haven’t yet adopted permitless carry.
Louisiana’s rejection means Vermont, which has never required a permit to carry a gun concealed, and Maine, which passed permitless carry in 2015 under a Republican governor and Senate, are the only states to adopt the policy where Republicans didn’t enjoy total control of the government.
Edwards vetoed the permitless carry bill after it passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate by veto-proof majorities. Republican leadership then called the state’s first-ever override session in hopes of countering him. But the state senators’ flip-flopping dropped support for the bill below the two-thirds level needed for an override.
Gun-rights activists slammed the senators who changed their positions. The National Rifle Association (NRA) labeled it a “betrayal at the Capitol” in a post on their website. Gun Owners of America (GOA) described the move as a stab in the back and promised political consequences for the senators.
“Their betrayal of gun owners speaks VOLUMES, as they only voted ‘pro-gun’ earlier in the session when their votes didn’t matter,” GOA said in a statement. “Gun owners will remember this backstab at the ballot box.”
Senators Connick, Foil, and Smith did not respond to a request for comment. Senator Bernard told The Reload he switched his vote over feedback he received from police officers.
“The group that led me to reversing my previous vote, was Law Enforcement,” he said. “While there were some who expressed their support of SB-118, the great majority of officers were deeply concerned that yet another layer of risk was being added to their already difficult job.”
He said he now believes permitless carry is unsafe.
“I want to say that I totally respect those who believe there should be no training or permit required to carry a concealed weapon,” Senator Bernard told The Reload. “But I believe that SOME level of training protects not only the carrier, but the general public as well.”
Senator Johns said he was unable to make the override vote because he was having knee surgery.
“This decision to not participate in the veto session is one of the hardest I’ve made in my 22 years of service to our state,” Johns told The Advocate. “I take my legislative responsibilities very seriously but my health and well-being must be my first responsibility to my family and myself.”
Joshua Barnhill, Louisiana Director for GOA, tried to find a bright spot in the reversal of fortunes for permitless-carry advocates.
“While this is not the outcome GOA and its members fought for, or that the people of Louisiana deserve,” he said, “one silver lining is that it has shed light on who in the Senate actually supports Constitutional Carry and who was simply trying to score political points thinking there would be no veto session!”
The NRA similarly said the senators in question could no longer be trusted and vowed to push the bill again next year.
“We cannot, and will not, let others pick and choose which parts of the Bill of Rights they would like to follow, and we will continue our fight next legislative session to ensure we keep that freedom,” the gun-rights group said.
Update 8:43 a.m. July 22nd, 2021: This piece has been updated to include comments from Senator Bernard and a correction on the number of non-Republican states with permitless carry.