Mississippi Upholds Open Carry Firearm Law
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the state’s new open carry firearm statute, allowing the law to go into effect two months after a judge blocked it for being “unconstitutionally vague.”
The new law, originally slated to go into effect July 1, defines what constitutes a concealed firearm and affirms the right of gun owners to openly carry a gun without a permit. The law was drafted in response to a 2012 opinion issued by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who said that concealed carry permit holders were legally required to completely conceal their firearms under their clothing at all times, with no exceptions for brief or accidental exposure.
A group of Mississippi officials, including a district attorney, a sheriff, four constables and four Democratic state senators, sued to block the law just before it was set to take effect. Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd granted the request days later, sending the law back to the state legislature for clarification.
But in a sparsely written opinion, the state’s high court unanimously found “that the circuit judge erred as a matter of law when he found House Bill 2 to be vague and, therefore, unconstitutional.”
“He also erred when he stated that a ‘reasonable person reading the bill could not discern what the law allows and what it prohibits,’” the opinion said.
Law Enforcement Anticipating Alarm
The organized opposition to the statute was based on concerns that public order would be disrupted if Mississippians embraced their open carry rights too enthusiastically.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office co-sponsored a special training session in June to educate state and local police about firearm enforcement under the new law. Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun told Huffington Post that the “new law will result in quite a few calls from the general public as they notice more guns being carried out in the open.”
Trial attorney and former prosecutor Charles F. Coleman Jr. told Lawyers.com that while the law provides guidance to gun owners who want to carry their weapons, “it will ultimately be up to law enforcement to interpret whether a gun owner’s exposure of their weapon exceeds what is permitted under the law.”
“In some instances, where a person is blatantly displaying a firearm with no intention of covering it up, it will be obvious,” Coleman said. “However, the more likely scenario will be far less straightforward and call for snap decisions in the moment based on the situation.”
Open Carry ‘Law of the Land’
Many advocates of the new law say that it doesn’t actually create any new rights, but simply clarifies the right to openly carry a firearm enshrined in the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. That document says the right to bear arms “shall not be called in question, but the legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.”
Virginia attorney John Pierce, co-founder of the gun advocacy website OpenCarry.org, said “unrestricted open carry is generally the law of the land in America.”
Pierce says 29 states allow open carry without a permit and 14 allow it with a permit. Only Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, D.C. prohibit open carry. In California, open carry is only legal in certain rural counties.
“Open carry is increasingly common across the country and law enforcement officers in the majority of the country do not have any ‘public order problems,’” Pierce said.
In states that allow concealed carry but ban open carry, Pierce says it’s “possible for an otherwise law-abiding permit holder to inadvertently briefly expose their firearm and be charged with some offense under that state’s statutory scheme.”
As for the public response to permissive open carry laws, Pierce says that more people carrying guns will make law enforcement better, not worse.
“When firearms are commonly open carried then law enforcement focuses on the conduct of the individual rather than the mere legal possession of a constitutionally protected item when determining whether a given person is committing a crime,” Pierce said. “And that is how it should be.”
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