Making it easier to carry guns in Miss.

Published 3:12 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Mississippi, as in much of the country, it is getting easier to carry concealed guns.

With Senate passage of a bill this past week to allow handgun-permit holders to carry their concealed guns in most Mississippi parks, as well as in restaurants and other locations, it is becoming difficult to determine who can’t legally carry a firearm in the Magnolia State; except for convicted felons, of course.

The bill by state Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, originally covered only parks. It was amended to let permit holders carry their guns in restaurants, bars and unsecured government buildings unless the owners of those facilities post notices barring guns.

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The measure, Senate Bill 2153, now goes to the House.

“Citizens should be able to exercise their Second Amendment right, and this bill will broaden the locations where they can do so,” Flowers said in a statement after the bill’s passage.

“Businesses will still have the ability to opt to restrict permit holders from entering their premises while armed, and counties and municipalities will also have the option for local parks. This bill simply allows folks to protect themselves and their families.”

In 2009, Tennessee was at the forefront of the movement to loosen state gun laws. The movement’s champion is the National Rifle Association. The NRA, which for years has blocked attempts in Washington to tighten firearms laws, is pressing the states to chip away at gun restrictions.

A nationwide review by TheAssociated Press found that in 2008 and 2009, 24 states, mostly in the South and West, had passed 47 new laws loosening gun restrictions.

The NRA says the Mississippi bill would “bring state law into line with federal law allowing carry permit holders to protect themselves in parks, and to broaden the right to self-defense in other locations,” said Tara Mica, NRA’s Mississippi state liaison.

Flowers’ bill was patterned after the law in Tennessee, where handgun owners can take their weapons onto sports fields and playgrounds. It would provide reciprocity to permit holders in other states — like Tennessee — with similar laws.

The bill prohibits weapons by anyone in parks where youth sports are played. Businesses and employers can ban handguns from inside their offices, but not in parking lots.

Under Mississippi’s decade-old concealed weapon law, guns cannot be carried on school property or at any sporting events, including those held in parks.

People must already undergo extensive background checks and FBI fingerprint checks before they receive permits to carry concealed weapons, such as pistols, revolvers and stun guns.

There have been other gun law revisions in recent years. Among them:

— A 1995 law allowing municipal judges, members of the state Court of Appeals and welfare fraud investigators could carry guns after passing a weapons training course. Supreme Court justices and circuit and chancery judges could carry firearms without permits.

— A 2004 change that waived a one-year state residency requirement to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon if the person applying for the permit is in the active-duty military or a retired law enforcement officer or if the person has a valid concealed-weapons permit from another state.

— The 2006 “castle doctrine” law that protects people from any criminal charge or civil suit if they use force — including deadly force — against an invader of the home or business.

— A 2009 revision providing that concealed-weapons permit holders can renew by mail rather than in person.