By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Attorney General Jim Hood says he hopes to file a motion by Monday with the Mississippi Supreme Court asking it to block the ruling of a Hinds County Circuit judge who has halted the enactment of the state’s new open carry law for weapons.
The Democratic attorney general, who met Wednesday with the news media, said the Supreme Court needs to settle the issue as soon as possible so that law enforcement throughout the state knows how to respond to people who might openly carry a weapon.
“Can you imagine getting up every day trying to protect people and not knowing what you can and cannot do?” said Hood of the quandary facing law enforcement.
Hood said he wished everyone carrying a weapon had to receive “enhanced training,” but he conceded that the state’s 1890 Constitution gives people who are eligible to purchase a gun the right to openly carry it with no permit.
While Hood and others say the right to open carry has been around for more than a century as part of the state Constitution, it was not an issue until legislation was passed during the 2013 session to reinforce that right.
The passage of that legislation created a firestorm and a ruling by Hinds County Judge Winston Kidd earlier this month blocking the enactment of the law because he said it is “unconstitutionally vague” and would create “chaos.”
Hood plans to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Kidd’s ruling in an expedited manner – in six weeks or less. But if the Supreme Court follows its normal procedures, it could take more than a year for the issue to reach the state’s highest court.
In the meantime, to add to the confusion, Hood reiterated that law enforcement outside of Hinds County do not have to adhere to Kidd’s ruling. He said the state is blocked by Kidd’s ruling from enforcing the law, but since the law does not require enforcement, but instead gives legal protection to people who openly carry a weapon, it will be up to local law enforcement to decide how to deal with someone openly carrying a weapon.
Hood said the practical effect is that few people will openly carry under the new law because of the restrictions put in place by local property owners. He predicted most businesses will ban weapons. Hood said property owners have the right to ban people on their property with weapons, whether they are openly carrying or have a concealed weapons permit or enhanced concealed weapons permit. An enhanced concealed carry permit requires a specified amount of training.
Hood admitted “some bad guys” might put people in jeopardy, but said in the end the law will not result in many changes in Mississippi.
“In the end, six months from now, we will think this whole debate did not happen,” he said.
Lee County Chief Deputy John Hall said Wednesday his agency is “under the assumption” Kidd’s ruling is statewide, but “we have not had an issue we have had to address.”
Hood credited legislators “on testosterone” for passage of laws that result in changes to the criminal justice system making it more difficult for law enforcement to do its job.
Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, the author of the legislation has said that the intent of the proposal was to define concealed carry, which requires a permit in Mississippi, and to clarify the right of open carry.
Gipson said, “The issue is not whether a law authorizes open carry, but whether the Constitution or a law prohibits it. Clearly, neither the Constitution nor any law prohibit carrying a firearm so long as a person is legally entitled to possess a firearm and is not trespassing where open carry is prohibited by the landowner.”