AGE CHANGE POSSIBLE ON GUNS, NOT BOOZE

It was a bad day to between the ages of 18 and 20 at the Capitol today, especially if you’re a gun enthusiast and feeling eager to imbibe in alcohol. That’s because senators advanced one bill that would raise the legal age to 21 for Louisiana citizens to purchase “assault weapons,” and then stalled another that would have dropped the legal age to buy alcohol to 19, with a few caveats.

Conducted by two of the Senate’s judiciary committees, the hearings were highly anticipated, due to both bills being heavily covered by reporters statewide. In an ongoing regular session defined largely by looming budget problems, the bills contain a pair of rare issues that had, as of this morning, captured the attention of voters and opinion writers.

The Judiciary C Committee approved by a 4-3 vote the proposal to hike the legal age for purchasing assault weapons, which is defined in SB 274. The bill’s author, Sen. Troy Carter, said he was inspired to pursue a new public policy in light of recent mass shootings. “If we save one life, two lives, three lives,” Carter said, “it’ll be worth it.”

Law enforcement officials and special interests like the Louisiana Conference of Bishops spoke in favor of the bill. Predictably, outfits like the National Rifle Association opposed the proposal. So did Dan Zelenka, the president of the Louisiana Shooting Association, who said young people don’t deserve to be included in a special exclusion that could end up in state law. “They have the right to vote,” Zelenka said. “They have a right to marry.”

Carter’s SB 274 now heads to the full Senate for further consideration. Not joining it on that legislative journey will be SB 429 by Sen. Eric LaFleur, which would have altered the age at which Louisiana residents could buy alcohol. LaFleur’s bill would have allowed 19- and 20-year-olds to purchase booze as long as they obtained an “alcohol consumption certificate,” which is presented to anyone who completes an annual class. Minors would have also been required to obtain parental approval.

Addressing the Judiciary B Committee, LaFleur told his colleagues that he was withdrawing the bill from consideration for the regular session. While LaFleur said the proposal would have brought underage drinkers “out of the shadows,” concerns have been mounting about Louisiana losing federal dollars if the age change were enacted.

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