Hood’s ‘open carry’ ruling strikes important balances

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2013

As Hood’s opinion expressly notes, the ruling doesn’t apply to people who carry a concealed weapon with a standard or enhanced permit. Those who seek and win concealed carry permits in Mississippi have already agreed to rather broad restrictions on carrying their weapons in most local, state and federal government buildings, law enforcement venues, educational facilities, professional athletic events, airport terminals, and bars.

So what do we learn from the ruling?

First, Mississippians have the right to openly carry a firearm without a concealed weapon permit as long as the weapon at least partially visible. The fact that Mississippi is by law an “open carry” state and that Mississippi has a reasonably clear law authorizing “concealed carry” of firearms by those with the appropriate standard or expanded permits.

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Second, neither the “concealed carry” nor “open carry” laws trump an existing state statute that makes it illegal to carry a weapon onto the campus of a school or university. The state’s universities and schools have operated under the cloak of that law and the AG ruling puts those entities in a little stronger position.

Third, the act of engaging in “open carry” does not give law enforcement the right to require a person carrying the weapon to submit to questioning or to answer questions.

Fourth, private property owners and “custodians” of public property may exercise property rights that allow them to deny entry to persons carrying weapons in either “open carry” of “concealed carry permit” modes.

Fifth, sheriffs have the authority to disallow the open carry of firearms into county courthouses and other government buildings, noting that said courthouses are “the scene of emotionally charged disputes such as child custody battles, criminal prosecutions, property forfeitures, tax sales, etc.” The opinion noted that a ban on weapons in sensitive areas like the courthouse “is reasonably tailored to serve the governmental interest in preserving security for courthouse proceedings and personnel.”

No government ruling on guns ever wins universal praise, but Hood – a serious outdoorsman and a former district attorney who has more than a passing acquaintance with both guns and violent crime – does a good job in this ruling of striking a common sense balance between respecting guns rights and public safety.

Open carry advocates generally fared well in this ruling, but then so did those concerned about people packing in volatile venues like university campuses, schools, athletic events, and government buildings. So, too, did private property owners who want to maintain some control of the liability they accept on their property.

The group most likely to have problems with this opinion is law enforcement officers, for the simple reason that it allows more law-abiding citizens to legally be on the streets of Mississippi with weapons and it allows them to do so without fear of much interference from the police. That, based on the laws passed in recent years, is clearly the will of the majority of the Legislature.

Hood’s ruling, tracing recent U.S. Supreme Court cases and state legislative actions, succeeds in nodding to that fact.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.