BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana students, technically as young as kindergarteners, who bring toy guns to school could face criminal penalties under a proposal state lawmakers will consider during a session that begins Monday.
House Bill 43, by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, would ban the possession of “imitation firearms, projectiles or ammunition” in Louisiana schools, at school-sponsored events or within 1,000 feet of campuses. It includes BB guns, firearm replicas, CO2 propellant guns and other firearm devices that are “substantially similar in coloration and overall appearance to an existing firearm as to lead a reasonable person to perceive that the device is a firearm.”
Violators -- students and non-students -- could be subject to six months in prison and a $250 fine for a first offense. A second offense would mean a six-month jail sentence and $500 fine.
Horton said her proposal is not intended to target 5-year-olds, but the measure, as it stands, includes no exemption for age, applying to all schools, from elementary through college.
Some school policies already exist to prevent students from bringing toys to school without permission, but Horton said those rules do not include the penalties for offenders and protections for police officers that her legislation provides.
Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington asked Horton to propose the legislation after a student in a Bossier Parish school pulled an imitation gun and pointed it at a police officer. Horton said the fake gun had been modified to the point a trained eye could not tell the difference.
“When this officer went to draw for his gun, the student dropped it and ran,” Horton said. “Until the officer picked it up, he could not have known that it was fake. There’s no way he could have known.”
She said the bill began as a local effort but expanded into statewide legislation because the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association saw similar concerns in other parishes.
“It’s just a two-fold legislation that would hopefully prevent a student from being shot but also protect the officer from being forced to take action against a student that he would have to live with the rest of his life,” Horton said. “I don’t want a student to pay with his life for making a bad choice if we can help it.”
Horton, an advocate for Second Amendment rights, described her proposal as “common sense” legislation. It includes exemptions for law enforcement officers and students participating in activities such as ROTC.
The bill would also exempt possession of the prohibited items on private property, in private residences or in a vehicle within 1,000 feet of a school campus.
“A lot of people have thought this is some type of gun control, which is ludicrous if you read the bill. We’re talking strictly about imitation, fake firearms.”
After noticing concerns from constituents related to the use of the word ammunition in the bill, she said she reached out to the National Rifle Association and is open to amending the bill’s language “as long as it doesn’t interfere with the spirit of the law.”
Horton has also been collaborating with state education advocacy organizations to address their concerns. She has been in communication with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and plans to work with it once the organization reaches a consensus about what tweaks might need to be made to the measure.
Louisiana Association of Educators legislative and political director Shane Riddle said his organization will also have an opportunity to meet with Horton to discuss two areas of concern.
“The legislation goes a little bit further than just preventing the imitation guns from coming into the school property,” he said. “There is penalty and school property language, like where it says 1,000 feet from the school property, that could present a problem.”
Rather than charging students with a criminal offense, Riddle believes there are potential penalties at the school level that could serve as alternatives. He said he believes Horton will be willing to hear his organization’s concerns, and he is hopeful a compromise will be reached.
“We do agree that imitation guns should not be brought onto school property unless it’s in association with some type of program, like a gun safety program.”
© 2018 WWL-TV