Open carry gun laws trigger discussion

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 28, 2010

NATCHEZ — As Starbucks shareholders waded through gun protesters for an annual meeting this week, coffee connoisseurs in Natchez had a more peaceful pick-me-up.

But even a Southern coffee shop isn’t opinion free when it comes to the topic of openly carrying loaded weapons.

Law in Mississippi allows for properly permitted civilians to take their latte and their holstered weapon into public places, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with it.

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Tom Vaughn of Gulfport, who was visiting Natchez Coffee Co., last week, said although he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, a coffee shop was no place to be packing heat.

“If someone came in here with a gun on a holster in plain view that wasn’t a law enforcement officer, it would bother me,” he said.

And Natchez Coffee Co., Manager Sharon Brown said it would also bother her.

“I don’t see a reason why someone who isn’t a law enforcement officer would need to carry a gun into a coffee shop,” Brown said. “It would bother me.”

But still others said they probably wouldn’t even notice a holstered gun or wouldn’t think twice if they did.

“If it looked like he had all of his marbles, then I wouldn’t object a bit,” Hattiesburg resident Karen Mannoni said.

In the state of Mississippi, with the proper permits, a person can carry a gun out into public as long as it is concealed or partially concealed, according to Mississippi Code 45-9-101.

The permit must be carried at all times a weapon is being carried and the carrier must always be able to produce a valid form of identification.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said “partially concealed” allows for holstered weapons, since the holster would cover a portion of the gun.

In addition, gun owners with permits can place a gun wherever they’d like to, whether in plain sight or not, in their own vehicle, business or house, Police Chief Mike Mullins said.

“My professional recommendation is out of sight, out of mind,” Mullins said. “If you are going to carry a weapon, keep it out of plain sight.”

He added that if a law enforcement officer asks if you have a gun in your vehicle it is your duty to tell the officer about any weapon.

Mullins and Mayfield both said they support the right of law-abiding citizens to carry a permitted weapon and understand that many people do it as a means of protection.

“Our deputies, unfortunately, cannot be everywhere at all times,” Mayfield said. “We support responsible people carrying a weapon for self defense.

“The only people with guns we’ve had a problem with are the criminals. If you are a law abiding citizen, you should be able to protect yourself.”

Natchez resident Jimmy Murray said, unfortunately, he has been a situation where he was glad his gun was handy.

“I’ve never used the gun I have right now, but I have had to pull a gun on somebody,” Murray said. “It looked like there was going to be a robbery at my place of business, but when I pulled it, it ran them off.”

Mississippi Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer Rusty Boyd said his office has seen an increase in the number of people applying for permits in recent years.

Convicted felons and those convicted of any domestic violence charges are not legally permitted to carry weapons.

Laws do apply that prevent guns on school campuses, in banks or at post offices, among a few other places.

Permit fees are $100 plus $30 for fingerprints. The department of public safety collects the fees. Troop M’s office in Brookhaven is the closest to Natchez. A concealed carry permit is valid for four years.

Mayfield asked that gun carriers be alert and smart if they ever do have to use their weapon for protection.

“If there is an altercation involving a gun, be sure to put it away if the situation is diffused,” he said. “When the law enforcement officer arrives, he or she doesn’t know who the bad guy is yet.”