Does new amendment trump felon gun law?

Published 11:34 pm Sunday, March 10, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Defense attorneys argue that Louisiana’s new constitutional protection for gun ownership applies to felons, too.

Federal law makes it illegal for felons to carry firearms. But state law makes it illegal for some felons to own firearms.

The amendment that took effect Jan. 1 gives Louisiana residents a fundamental right to bear arms. And any law infringing on such a right must get the highest level of judicial scrutiny.

Email newsletter signup

New Orleans public defenders argue that this means prosecutors must provide compelling data showing that those convicted of such crimes are a greater threat to society when armed.

They agree that public safety is a compelling interest to bar guns from violent offenders like murderers or armed robbers.

But, public defender Jill Pasquarella has written in several cases, “There is, simply, no rational basis for stripping Louisianans of their rights … where they have been convicted of crimes that are wholly unrelated to firearm possession or use.”

State District Judge Frank Marullo agreed Friday, tossing the felon-with-a-gun charge against a man convicted 10 years ago of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute it — partly because the gun in question couldn’t fire, and partly because Rickey Jackson’s conviction was a decade old and not for an inherently violent crime.

The ruling applied only to Jackson and should not be interpreted to encompass the hundreds of defendants awaiting trial on gun charges, Marullo said.

He made a similar ruling for Darrell Dixon, charged as a felon with a firearm because he had once been convicted of breaking into a city-owned vehicle.

“I don’t think the statute, per se, is unconstitutional in every set of circumstances,” Marullo said then. “But I think that the Louisiana population added that language to that amendment, and I think you have a non-violent crime here.”

Prosecutors have appealed both rulings.


Information from: The Times-Picayune,