- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Concealed-handgun permit holders and armed off-duty police officers would be able to enter restaurants serving alcohol if lawmakers agree to a bill backed Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice Committee.

The committee voted 9-4 to advance the measure to the full House for debate.

Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, a former superintendent of state police, said he opposed the measure because it would be dangerous to have guns in restaurants, some of which can get rowdy.

“You don’t have any concern about massacre?” Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, asked bill sponsor Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie.

Lopinto said the bill could prevent violence by promoting self-defense.

“It is about putting safety first,” he said.

He said the bill’s purpose was to clear up confusion caused by two contradictory state laws about who can carry a gun into places serving alcohol.

The law regulating gun possession in places serving alcohol exempts the establishment’s owner and employees and on-duty police officers. However, a separate law regulating concealed-handgun permits says permit holders can bear arms in restaurants serving alcohol.

Lopinto’s proposal seeks to extend the exemption in the law limiting gun possession in alcohol-serving businesses to off-duty officers.

It would also make an exception for concealed-handgun permit holders by allowing them to carry their guns into restaurants serving alcohol. However, permit holders would still be barred from carrying guns into bars.

Landry suggested another way to fix the confusion.

“Maybe we ought to constrict it,” he said, referring to the concealed-handgun permit law.

Landry said he disagrees with Lopinto that allowing concealed-handgun permit holders to carry guns into restaurant is safe.

Under the bill, sheriffs would ultimately decide whether their officers could carry guns into bars and restaurants by creating policies for their department.

Supporters of the bill included Gov. Bobby Jindal, the National Rifle Association, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association.

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