Natchez considers stiffer penalties for shooting guns in city limits

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, April 11, 2018

People who choose to fire weapons within Natchez’s city limits are currently not guaranteed to face harsh repercussions — but that could soon change.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong received approval Tuesday to work with City Attorney Bob Latham to strengthen the city’s lone gun ordinance, which states that no weapon can be fired within city limits.

Though the law does have various exceptions, such as for a licensed firing range, it precludes nearly everyone from firing a weapon in Natchez.

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Currently, violators of the law only can face “up to” a certain amount of a fine or jail time, Armstrong said. Instead, he wants those punishments to be a certainty for any offenders.

“We want to look at changing that and make it mandatory that you’ll have jail time and a fine for anyone who discharges a weapon inside the city unjustifiably,” Armstrong said.

The aldermen approved Armstrong’s request unanimously.

Armstrong said he would work with Latham to determine exactly what would be the best penalties to impose.

Additionally, the chief added that the police department needs the public’s help in reporting and identifying those offenders, as normally the culprits are long gone by the time police arrive on scene.

“We need the citizens to help in regards to this (situation) … we’ve had roof damage, we’ve had windows broken out by individuals who are randomly firing their weapons,” Armstrong said.

Afterward, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked if Armstrong had made any headway with a request she made in late February to examine whether the city can strengthen gun laws in terms of background checks or restricting gun enhancements such as bump stocks.

In response, Armstrong said he had put in a request to the state and was awaiting an official response.

Later in the day, when asked about how the department has done enforcing the existing shooting ordinance so far, the chief reiterated that he thinks residents can help NPD catch more people than it does currently.

  “There have been some arrests, but certainly we would like to see more arrests because it is certainly a very dangerous situation,” Armstrong said. “This community has been very, very forthcoming with information, and we’re just encouraging them to even do more, particularly with this matter.”

He also said such acts of aimlessly firing a weapon without a target should be taken just as seriously as shootings where an individual is struck.

“I view it extremely high in terms of priority wise, just as much as if you were actually shooting at someone, whether you hit them or not,” Armstrong said.

As for the ordinance itself, Armstrong said he believes a more stringent law could serve as a deterrent, though police would have to “wait and see.” But even despite harsher repercussions, he said, police will need citizens to report both what they see with their own two eyes and what they capture on video if the department is to clamp down on indiscriminate shooters.