Courthouse gun bans permitted

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A new law that goes into effect July 1, clarifying the people’s right to carry guns and other weapons openly, should not prevent sheriffs from banning those weapons in county courthouses, according to a ruling released Thursday by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
Thursday afternoon in his Sillers office building, Hood said the law passed by the 2013 Legislature “is as clear as mud” in determining where people can and cannot carry a gun or other weapon.
House Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, author of the legislation, said Mississippi, based on constitutional provisions, always has been a state where a person could carry a weapon in the open. The Constitution, Gipson said and Hood agreed Thursday, gives the Legislature the authority to regulate the carry of a concealed weapon, but not an unconcealed weapon.
But Hood said the opinion his office issued had to be based not only on state provisions, but also on the U.S. Constitution and on U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Hood said the Supreme Court has found that guns could be banned from certain “sensitive areas,” such as areas where public business that could be controversial in nature is conducted.
Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said he agreed with the opinion issued by the Democratic attorney general.
“That is the understanding I had of the bill when we voted on it,” Turner said, referring to allowing local officials to ban weapons in certain buildings.
Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, agreed, saying he thinks it is reasonable to allow bans in such areas as courthouses.
“I think we have a good bill. The purpose was to allow people to defend themselves in areas where there might not be much protection. In most courthouses I have been in there are armed law enforcement,” Moore said.
Hood said weapons could be banned from public education property, from the kindergarten to the higher education level.
He said sheriffs wanting to ban weapons from courthouses should consider posting signs to warn people.
Plus, the official opinion from the attorney general’s office warned that public officials who follow the opinion are protected in state court, not federal court, though Hood said he believes sheriffs will be on safe legal ground to ban guns in courthouses.
He said municipal governments might want to pass resolutions if they want to ban weapons from city halls.
He conceded the attorney general’s opinion could not cover every scenario that might be impacted by the new law.
“It will be pretty troublesome for cops on the street,” he said, but added that he does not believe many people will carry guns in the open.
Hood said any private property owner could prevent a person from carrying a firearm in the open on his or her property. He said the property owner could do so by posting a sign that could be seen from 10 feet away or simply by asking the open carry person to leave.
Hood said it is likely that lawsuits will result from the new law.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com