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Off-duty law enforcement officers should be allowed to carry their firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, according to a bill filed this week by state Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton. (Ted Jackson, | The Times-Picayune)
 January 08, 2014

It’s one of the worst-kept secrets that off-duty police officers in Louisiana often flout state law by bringing their service weapons into bars and restaurants that sell alcohol. One state lawmaker thinks it’s time to do away with the restriction, and he has revived a bill mandating as much.

For the second year in a row, state Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, has filed legislation to do away with a state law that bars off-duty law enforcement officers from carrying firearms into alcoholic beverage outlets, defined as any establishment where alcohol is served for consumption on the premises.

Under current law, only law enforcement officers “acting in the performance of … official duties,” the bar or restaurant owner, and employees may openly carry firearms in such establishments.

The same bill was killed halfway through the legislative process last year, after it was amended to allow anyone — not just law enforcement officers — to openly carry a weapon in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, is best known for sponsoring legislation to allow concealed carry in churches under certain circumstances.

But even in its original form, some had concerns. The most commonly voiced issue was that the change was unnecessary because the law has never been enforced.

Some critics even stated that the statute wasn’t clear, and doesn’t expressly restrict police officers from this kind of behavior. That stance was all but quashed in August, when state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued an opinion supporting a strict reading of the statute.

Now Burns has brought back the bill, saying he expects his fellow lawmakers as well as law enforcement agencies to support his efforts in striking the prohibition from state law. His reasons for resurrecting the legislation are simple, he said Wednesday.

Keeping the statute on the books means those enforcing the rules are in fact complicit in becoming law breakers, Burns said. Not to mention, he said, that police officers are expected to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Burns said not allowing them to carry their service weapons on their lunch breaks or out to dinner with their family puts them at risk.

But the same concerns raised during the 2013 legislative session are likely to rear their heads again this year. Most notably, according to state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, is the glaring absence of support for the legislation in years past from law enforcement groups.

“I find that I have a lot of contacts with law enforcement and no one in law enforcement has ever asked for this bill,” said Morrell, who chairs the Senate committee that killed the bill last year.

Morrell said he would expect the bill to be successful in this second go-around only if Burns could garner the support of some law enforcement organizations, as well as quell concerns that the legislation could serve as a “Trojan Horse bill” to allow for the eventual legalization of unrestricted concealed carry.

He also said the Legislature’s time could be used in a more effective manner if it focused on striking outdated, and even unconstitutional, laws from the books first.

Morrell made clear he hasn’t seen Burns’ bill and said he tries not to prejudge legislation before he sees it. But he said, “People are going to have some second thoughts” if private groups like the Louisiana Shooting Association support the bill while law enforcement groups like the Louisiana Sheriffs Association remain quiet.

“Law enforcement has not shown up for it, and private groups that seek the expansion of concealed carry everywhere are in favor of it,” Morrell said. Burns “has to show up with at least at a couple of law enforcement agencies with him.”

Louisiana Sheriffs Association President Tom Mancuso on Wednesday said his group had not yet discussed the piece of legislation and could not make a statement until every sheriff had a chance to weigh in.

Burns said law enforcement groups were less amenable to having a conversation about the bill in years past, simply because they didn’t want to put the words “law enforcement,” “guns” and “alcohol” in the same sentence. He thinks it could be different this year.

Enforced or not, National Association of Police Organizations Executive Director Bill Johnson called Louisiana’s law “over-broad” and “unusually restrictive,” adding that he thinks the change would be an improvement for law enforcement.

“Most states with which we are familiar would allow a properly commissioned law enforcement officer, whether on or off duty, to carry their service weapon about them wherever there are in the state,” Johnson said.

Burns’ legislation is House Bill 10. He is best known for sponsoring a bill in 2010, signed that year by Gov. Bobby Jindal, to allow concealed carry in churches under certain circumstances.

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