Judge Blocks Mississippi Open Carry Law Indefinitely
A Mississippi judge today declared that the state’s new open carry law is unconstitutionally vague and ordered that an injunction against it be extended indefinitely.
State officials already announced that they plan to appeal the judge’s decision to the state Supreme Court.
The measure, signed into law earlier this year, had been scheduled to go into effect July 1 before Judge Winston Kidd blocked it. Under most interpretations it would allow residents to openly carry firearms in the state without first applying for a permit.
A local district attorney, among other plaintiffs, asked the judge to halt the implementation of the law in June. The plaintiffs largely followed reasoning issued by judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who laid down six reasons that loaded guns in public could be limited in Woollard v. Gallagher earlier this year.
Attorney Lisa Ross argued against the measure’s implementation in a hearing on Monday. The law purported to clarify the state’s open carry rule, not create any new rights, but Ross argued to the contrary, asserting that the language was overly vague and could be interpreted to allow a firearm free-for-all.
Confusing and Vague
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd told a local newspaper, “I strongly support the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, but this is a safety issue. We’re not trying to infringe on anyone’s rights. This new law is confusing and vague and can lead to misconceptions.”
Among their arguments, the law’s opponents claim that it:
- “will cause an increase in reports to law enforcement from concerned individuals.”
- will increase the “difficulty in identifying imminent threats” because more citizens may be openly carrying weapons.
- will cause law enforcement to “likely need to stop and question a larger number of individuals due to open carrying in order to conduct an inquiry as to the lawful possession of the firearm.”
- will “place the rest of society as risk” from “individuals who are new to carrying a firearm.”
- “could cause citizens to be fearful of those they observe carrying deadly weapons.”
- “could lead to increased incidents of violence.”
The plaintiffs also noted that Mississippi had the second highest firearm murder rate in the country as of 2010.
A Matter of Law
Open carry supporters argued that the judge has no cause to block a law passed by the legislature that merely clarifies a right they argue already exists in the state constitution. “This is a matter of law,” said Special Attorney General Harold Pizzetta.
The constitutional language in question reads, “The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.”
While a permit is required to carry a concealed firearm in Mississippi, the measure passed this year updated the language to define “concealed” to specifically exclude visible weapons.
Open carry advocates said the plaintiffs made only vague policy statements, “none of which represent a legal sufficient basis for the judiciary to overturn the will and judgment of the Legislature.”
Last week the state Supreme Court declined to step in and pull the Judge Kidd’s injunction. Now they will likely get another chance to weigh in. “I think it’s going to go to the Supreme Court,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said earlier this week. “I think the Supreme Court’s going to uphold the Legislature and House Bill 2.”