Natchez resident Gloria McKnight, left, and her son Calvin exit the Adams County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon, passing one of the signs reading 'no firearms allowed' which can be seen on every entrance to the structure. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Natchez resident Gloria McKnight, left, and her son Calvin exit the Adams County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon, passing one of the signs reading 'no firearms allowed' which can be seen on every entrance to the structure. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

City considers gun ordinance

Published 12:01am Friday, July 12, 2013

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez is considering a firearms ban for city-owned building and property.

Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray asked City Attorney Hyde Carby at Tuesday’s aldermen meeting if the city could post “no firearms” signs at city buildings and parks.

Gray said he believes prohibiting firearms on city property would be in the best interest of public safety.

The city, Carby said, currently has an ordinance outlawing the discharge of firearms in the city limits other than by law enforcement.

But Carby was hesitant to immediately advise the board to post signs banning firearms on city property. He said state law says a municipality may not pass an ordinance that “restricts or requires the possession, transportation, sale, transfer or ownership of firearms or ammunition.”

Carby said Thursday he is researching state law and also seeking advice from the attorney general’s office on what the city is legally allowed to do to restrict carrying firearms on city property.

McComb and Vicksburg have recently passed firearms bans for city property in response to the state’s recent passage of an open-carry gun law

Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd says he’ll decide today whether to further extend his June 28 order that blocked the law from taking effect July 1.

According to a June 13 official opinion issued by Attorney General Jim Hood, property and business owners can forbid weapons on their property by posting a sign or telling visitors that guns are allowed.

That also applies to local governments, which can decide if guns are allowed in public buildings and courthouses.

Unlike private property owners, however, Hood said, the authority of custodians of public property to disallow a lawful activity on land controlled by them requires a case-by-case analysis of the authority of the public body under the law.

Hood added that if a public body has such authority, then the question is whether the ban is Constitutional.

Signs were recently posted at the Adams County Board of Supervisors office and county courthouse prohibiting firearms in the buildings.

In the June 13 opinion, Hood said banning firearms at courthouses could be justified because it is the location of “emotionally charged disputes such as child custody battles, criminal prosecutions, property forfeitures, tax sales, etc.”

Carby said he contacted the AG’s office Thursday and is awaiting final advisement on a firearms ban for city property.

“We’re interested in doing something, but we don’t want to run afoul of the Constitution,” Carby said.

Mayor Butch Brown said he believes the city will eventually pass an ordinance banning firearms on city property.

Members of the Natchez Bar Owners’ Association asked Brown Wednesday at a meeting to consider such a ban. Bars have already begun posting signs prohibiting firearms in their establishment in response to the new open-carry law.

Bowie’s Tavern Manager Nancy Best told the mayor that residents openly carrying firearms in public could deter tourists from visiting the city, which would directly affect bar business.

“If I was a tourist and saw someone walking down the street with a gun strapped to their hip, I would get right back in my car and leave,” she said.

Brown said he is sure “stringent” opposition to a firearms ban for city property will emerge in the name of protecting the Second Amendment.

“But there is going to have to be some way we can protect the public and our law enforcement officers,” he said.

The city, Brown said, also does not want to restrict anyone’s right to bear arms.

“There are lots of ramifications to this, and we want to pare them out and come up with something that will give the public comfort and safety,” he said.

If the city does pass an ordinance banning firearms on city property, the public has, by state law, 30 days to comment on the ordinance before it becomes law.