Figures from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement reveal that 436 people were murdered with guns in the Pelican State in 2018, and senior law enforcement officials say that between 25% and 48% of the victims were killed by convicted felons. Felons found in possession of firearms can currently be sent to prison for up to five years, but they would face harsher penalties if a bill working its way through the state legislature is passed and signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards.

The proposal, which would make possession of a firearm by a felon a crime of violence, cleared a major hurdle on May 12 when a Senate committee voted 4-1 to forward the legislation to the Senate and House. Supporters of the bill say that action is needed to protect the community and deter violent criminals from obtaining dangerous weapons.

The bill is likely to be fiercely debated in the legislature. Opponents of the proposed law point out that violent crime is falling in Louisiana, and they say that passing the bill would lead to higher corrections costs while providing little in the way of tangible benefits. This could be a major stumbling block for lawmakers backing the bill as its introduction comes less than three years after the criminal justice system in Louisiana was reformed to reduce incarceration rates and save taxpayers about $260 million over 10 years.

Possession of a firearm by a felon is often a charge individuals face in addition to more serious counts such as drug distribution or trafficking. When the evidence against their clients seems compelling and a jury trial is likely to end in a conviction, experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have secondary charges dropped in return for a guilty plea to the top count. Attorneys could also urge prosecutors to make significant sentencing concessions during plea discussions.