Quick resolve to gun law unlikely
by Rory Doyle
Jul 31, 2013 | 2124 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Gov. Phil Bryant, lawmakers, the National Rifle Association and others from across the state are asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to let them file briefs in support of the state's open carry law, House Bill 2.

The court had not ruled on the requests as of Monday. The motions included the parties' arguments in support of the law.

Those who brought the lawsuit, including Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, have not yet filed a brief.

Attorney General Jim Hood asked the Supreme Court on July 22 to overturn a ruling by Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd, who declared the law unconstitutionally vague.

Earlier this year, legislators passed HB 2, which says adults do not need a permit to carry a gun that's not concealed.

The open-carry law was supposed to go into effect July 1, but Kidd enjoined the law July 12, saying after hearing arguments that it was on hold until the Legislature can clarify it.

Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, who originally supported HB 2, has since sided wholeheartedly with Kidd, claiming the law puts law enforcement and citizens at risk.

"People are claiming HB 2 changes nothing and that the same gun rights have been in place since the Mississippi Constitution was established in 1890," said Simmons. "If that's the case, and nothing was changing, we wouldn't be seeing such an outcry within the community.

"I sincerely hope this bill goes back to the Legislature with instruction. HB2 needs clarity — we hope the Supreme Court can see the confusion that goes with it."

Hood's office wrote that Kidd and those who sued to overturn the law were trying to use the courts to change a policy they disagree with.

Many cities and counties across the state have adopted local ordinances that bar openly carried weapons from public buildings and facilities, including parks and playgrounds.

Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams had previously helped distribute signs to hang on county properties that alert people of gun bans.

"We're going to have to wait and see what the court does," said Williams. "At that time, we'll carry out our actions as law enforcers the way we're asked to."

Williams, like many, said the bill leads to more confusion than clarity. His major concerns are people misunderstanding carrying rights and citizens thinking they can enter any building with their guns.

"I just don't think all the details were well thought out," said Williams. "There's still a lot of confusion."

In the governor's brief, Bryant said Mississippians have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms and other states also permit the open carrying of weapons.

"The existence and experience of these numerous other 'open carry states' is significant because plaintiffs' challenge to House Bill 2 is based almost entirely on their alarmist claims that disaster will follow if the bill is allowed to take effect," Bryant's attorney said in the brief. "In any context, such unsubstantiated assertions are a wholly inadequate basis for infringing upon citizens' fundamental constitutional rights or disregarding the results of the legislative process."

The NRA argued the right to open carry in Mississippi was not affected by HB2, and the circuit court's attempt to prevent 'chaos' by enjoining it fails to recognize that open carrying in Mississippi has and will continue in its absence.

Mississippi Delta Friends of NRA Vice Chairman Chris Haycraft is completely aligned with Bryant.

"The Mississippi Delta Friends of NRA fully support Governor Bryant's actions in support of our state gun laws," said Haycraft. "The right for citizens to open carry was written in to our state constitution in 1890.

"It is our right as law-abiding citizens to be able to bear arms for self defense. We would love to see this situation come to a close and the citizens of Mississippi continue to exercise their right to keep and bear arms."

Arguments from the lawmakers generally followed the same lines. They maintained the circuit court had infringed on the constitutional authority of the Legislature to enact laws and determine what constitutes a crime in Mississippi.