A Louisiana statute preventing felons from owning firearms was declared unconstitutional today.
New Orleans Parish Judge Darryl Derbigny made the ruling. The judge cited a recently passed amendment in the Louisiana State Constitution as the reason for ruling against the statute.
Last year, behind sweeping support from residents, Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment that made gun ownership a fundamental right. As a fundamental right, gun ownership in Louisiana is now viewed in the same class of rights as freedom of speech or religion.
Before the new amendment, gun laws in Louisiana were viewed with what is called “rational scrutiny.” Rational scrutiny allows for legislation that is believed to protect the public health, safety, morals or general welfare of the state.
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However, legislation on gun ownership is no longer viewed under rational scrutiny in Louisiana. Because of the new amendment, all gun-related legislation must be viewed under “strict scrutiny.”
When viewed under strict scrutiny, a law must meet several high standards in order to be viewed as constitutional. First, a law must be necessary for a compelling government interest. The law must also be narrowly defined in order to ensure that it serves only the intended government interest. Finally, the law must be the least restrictive way of serving that interest.
Judge Derbigny spoke on his ruling Thursday, saying, “The courts cannot question the wisdom of fundamental law and frustrate the will of the people; their function is to interpret and apply that law.”
Derbigny added, “After reviewing the law and applying a strict scrutiny standard, the Court finds LA R.S. 14:95.1 unconstitutional in its entirety.”
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When a statute is deemed unconstitutional, it is immediately presented to the State Supreme Court for review, skipping all mid-level courts that are typically included in the appeals process.
If the Louisiana State Supreme Court upholds today’s ruling, it will also have to decide whether the unconstitutionality of the law is applied retroactively. If this is found to be the case, hundreds of previous convictions made under the premise of the statute would need to be revisited.