AG: Guns now legal on college campuses

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Klingfuss says a new law will make it legal for some civilians to be armed on college campuses in Mississippi.
Klingfuss told the Mississippi Campus Law Enforcement Association last week that House Bill 506 means firearms permit holders who take approved firearms training and get an endorsement can carry concealed handguns in most places previously off limits to any civilians. The bill reaffirms federal restrictions and state weapon bans in law enforcement offices, jails and prisons.
Klingfuss was unreserved in his criticism, calling it “wicked” and “horrible.”
“Until we can get rid of it, you’ve got to figure out what to do with it,” he said.
Several campus police officers expressed opposition to the law.
“If you start letting everybody come on campus with guns, we’re going to have problems,” one said.
“We’ve got problems already,” another replied.
University of Mississippi Police Chief Calvin Sellers is president of the statewide campus law enforcement group and agrees the law is a bad idea.
“Ballgames and athletic events, we know, people’s emotions run really high. … I just don’t think that’s a place where we need firearms,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to shootouts in the Grove on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know that I’d want to be a professor in a classroom leading a hot debate knowing that a student might have a pistol in his backpack,” he added.
During the past year, one Ole Miss student was dismissed for hitting a professor with his bookbag, Sellers said, but no criminal charges were filed. He also said guns – “more than I’d want to know” – make their way onto campus. When they’re discovered, culprits face felony charges.
Jeffrey Johns is chief of police at Holmes Community College and regional vice chair with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He doesn’t favor the new law but is not as alarmed as some of his colleagues.
“I think it’s concerning anytime you have additional armed people on campus because of the close proximity,” he said. “However … in my 23 years, I’ve never arrested someone who possessed a gun permit. Generally, illegal firearms are what are used in commission of felony crimes.”
Johns is concerned that a legally armed student trying to help might be mistaken for a culprit in a mass shooting.
“One of my biggest fears on that (is) you send a unit of an active-shooter team into a building, and you round that corner and there’s a guy standing there with a gun,” he said.
He said legally armed students could also have a positive effect.
“In a situation like Virginia Tech, if you’ve got somebody armed, minding their own business, law-abiding, who’s been through the training, and he locks down with everybody else in the room and stays in there, and somebody comes through this door to kill everybody in the room and he takes him out – well, he’s a hero.”
Oxford attorney Reed Martz said there remains a state law on the books that prohibits carry on any educational property, but when laws conflict, the newer one usually overrides the older.
“I think a very good argument could be made in either direction,” he said. “But who am I to argue with the attorney general?”
While House Bill 506 passed in March and went into effect July 1, the enhanced endorsement is not yet available to permit holders. Seven trainers have recently been approved to carry out the Department of Public Safety’s 16-hour course.
Authors of H.B. 506 have criticized the DPS regulations, saying their clear intent was to accept any course and instructor certified by the National Rifle Association or other recognized gun-safety organizations.

Licensees say they are law-abiding, ‘nice’
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

Firearms permit holders say they and their kind are unlikely to cause the problems that some imagine when House Bill 506 authorizes concealed firearms for certain people on college campuses in Mississippi and other previously off-limits places.

Mississippi firearms permit applicants undergo fingerprinting and national and local background checks. Felonies, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and serious mental illnesses are disqualifications. Those who seek the new enhanced endorsement must also take a 16-hour training course.

Permit holders say those who spend time and money getting a weapons permit are law-abiding by definition, and usually nice folks, too.

“My wife and I are both medical professionals whose only run-ins with the law are the rare speeding ticket,” said Sonny Soileau of Lumberton. “I carry a concealed firearm wherever legally permitted. … I will do whatever necessary to avoid a confrontation or incident, but I believe in preparing as best possible to defend my family.”

“Nice people need guns because not everybody out there is nice,” said Justin Myers, who carries a gun on his way to work in downtown Jackson but is prohibited from doing so when he drives to Mississippi College for classes. Pastor Michael Wilbanks of Oakland Baptist Church in Walnut said the state’s restriction against church carry endangers his rural congregation.

“My role as a shepherd is to want my people protected,” he said. “If I’m able to legally carry a firearm concealed – and I am – in Walmart, who is the state to tell me I can’t do it in my church?”

Taking It Seriously

Mississippi State University student Will Mullendore said several attacks on or near campus prompted him to apply for a firearms permit two days after he turned 21. He said the training required for campus carry will be sobering to any who consider the issue lightly.

“If anybody goes through the application process, most people are going to realize how seriously they have to take carrying a weapon,” he said.

Gun permit holders have caused few troubles in Mississippi in 21 years. Jon Kalahar of the Department of Public Safety said of the 40,117 firearms permits and 5,535 security guard permits issued since 1990, six permits have been suspended and 15 revoked, while 9,225 permit holders have allowed theirs to expire. Several thousand applications have been turned down.

States where campus carry is legal for permit holders, such as Utah and Colorado, have defied dire predictions.

“We haven’t had any issues or problems at all,” said Remi Barron, interim director of public relations at the University of Utah.

Joy Tlou, director of public relations at Salt Lake Community College, added, “There’s been a bit of media attention because it was a novelty, but aside from that, I’m unaware of any problems.”

Rhonda Bentz, director of public and governmental relations for the Colorado Community College System, echoed, “We have had no real problems.”

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Community College also allows permitholders to carry on campus. The school made “Honor Roll” status in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For,” with security being one of several highlighted qualities.

“Our policy doesn’t prohibit students and employees from having the same rights that other people have,” said Bridget Baylor, director of public relations. “It’s garnered a lot of media attention, but it hasn’t caused any problems on our campus.”

errol.castens@journalinc.com