Open-carry gun law on hold a little longer

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, July 9, 2013

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s open-carry gun law remains on hold at least few more days.

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

Kidd heard arguments Monday from plaintiffs who sued to stop the law and a state attorney who defended it.

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Earlier this year, legislators passed and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 2, which says adults don’t need a permit to carry a gun that’s not concealed. Supporters say it simply reinforces the right to bear arms that’s in the Mississippi Constitution, but opponents worry the law could lead to people being careless with firearms.

Democratic Sen. John Horhn of Jackson said he regrets voting for the bill because it was not thoroughly debated. He said he plans to meet with Bryant on Wednesday and ask the governor to call lawmakers into special session to clarify the law.

Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor is willing to meet with lawmakers, as the schedule allows. “However, the potential for the governor to call a special session on this issue is nonexistent,” Bullock said.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith and others, including some constables, sued to block the measure. They said it could put law enforcement officers and others in danger if people are carrying guns with no training. During court Monday, plaintiffs’ attorney Lisa Ross asked Kidd to declare the law unconstitutionally vague because “men and women of common intelligence” could disagree about its effect.

“If the right to bear arms is unlimited, it means you could carry a gun anywhere, anytime, for any reason,” Ross said Monday. “We are a civilized people. That’s a Wild West mentality.”

Ross said the right to bear arms is already limited in some ways. She pointed to a previously enacted state law that prohibits guns on school and college campuses.

Assistant Attorney General Harold Pizzetta told the judge that the law makes clear that no state-issued permit is needed to openly carry a gun.

“What plaintiffs are attempting to do is make this a mess,” Pizzetta said in response to arguments that the law would be confusing.

“It is clear you don’t need an open-carry permit to walk down the middle of the street and mind your own business,” Pizzetta said.

Hinds County Constable Jerry Moore, who’s also a Jackson police sergeant, testified Monday that he and other officers worry what will happen if, for example, they respond to a disturbance at a nightclub where 300 people have been consuming alcohol and all are carrying guns.

“That’s a fearful thing, because now you don’t know who’s who,” Moore said, meaning it would be difficult to distinguish between those who mean harm and those who don’t.

Pizzetta said if someone is intoxicated while carrying a gun in a public place, that person could be charged with public intoxication. “Having a weapon is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.

Other state and federal laws put limits on carrying guns, Pizzetta said. For example, convicted felons are banned from having firearms.

House Bill 2 passed the House 111-8 on Jan. 29 and the Senate 51-0 on Feb. 27. Bryant signed it March 4.

Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, issued a nonbinding legal opinion June 13 that says that even when the law takes effect, sheriffs can still ban weapons in courthouses and people can still ban weapons on their own private property, including restaurants and stores. Hood also noted that guns are still banned on school and college campuses.

In many places across the state, including the state Capitol, people have been putting up signs recently to show that guns are not allowed.

The chief sponsor of House Bill 2, Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, said its main purpose was to clarify the definition of a concealed weapon. He said it was filed in response to a 2012 opinion issued by Hood’s office, which said that a concealed weapon must be completely covered. The bill says the definition of concealed weapon does not include a pistol carried in a holster if it is wholly or partially visible.

With several legislators in the courtroom Monday, Ross said the law is causing confusion. “God bless our legislators,” she said. “They go down there to make laws for our citizens, but sometimes they don’t pay attention.”

A state-issued permit is still required to carry a concealed weapon. But lawmakers specified this year, in a separate bill, that information about permit holders is no longer public record.