NEW ORLEANS - As shooters fired rounds Wednesday at the Jefferson Parish Shooter's Club, the debate in Baton Rouge was heating up over gun control.
About a dozen bills related to gun regulations have been filed in the Louisiana legislature this session. Most of them would loosen restrictions. Only a few would tighten regulations.
One of those bills is sponsored by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. It would require anyone who buys a gun to take a safety training course first.
“It is just simply a safety mechanism to make our cities and our communities safer,” said Badon.
The proposal is drawing mixed reactions from gun owners.
“That would be like having to take a civics class in order to vote,” said Dan Zelenka, president of the Louisiana Shooting Association. “Voting is a fundamental right; the right to bear arms is a fundamental right.”
“I don't have a problem with formal training,” said Richard Moss, manager of Shooter’s Club manager. “I do think that if you are going to own a firearm, you do have the responsibility to use it properly.”
Another bill would bar people with certain mental health issues from buying guns. Courts would be required to report those issues to the department of public safety.
“I want to really study the language to make sure that we catch the people that should be prohibited without having language that's over broad,” Zelenka.
Zelenka added that he agreed that those with certain mental health issues should not be allowed to own guns, but regulations should be narrow enough in which it would not prohibit someone who is simply getting marriage counseling, for example, from buying a gun.
Gun control advocates say better regulation is key to reducing violence in Louisiana.
In a study earlier this year, the Violence Policy Center said Louisiana has the second highest gun death rate in the nation, 19.06 deaths per 100,000 per year. The national average is 10.25 per 100,000. The study said Louisiana also has one of the highest rates of household gun ownership, at 45.6 percent.
“Somehow, we have to understand they are related, the rates of violence is directly attributable to the amount of guns and the access to guns that people have,” said Mary Claire Landry, head of the New Orleans Family Justice Center.
But those who oppose stricter regulations say guns are not the issue.
“I think that people feel a need to do something or to be perceived as doing something, unfortunately I don't think they're actually addressing the problem,” said Zelenka. “I think that there's a mental health problem, a school security problem out there.”
Meanwhile, the debates continues in Baton Rouge.