By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
A national conversation about gun laws in America could come to a head in January, when President Barack Obama demands concrete proposals on gun violence and mental health regulations.
U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the conversation needs to be less about gun control and more about the way we protect our schools and treat mental health.
“I don’t think that we need to go so far as to have second-grade teachers packing heat in a classroom,” Nunnelee said Thursday. “But, I do think having trained law enforcement officers in the schools, who have the skills to act with deadly force if needed, would help.”
He said he believes that people who commit crimes of mass violence find a way to hurt people regardless of their access to weapons, noting that Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer and a rental truck in 1995 to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
“We’ve got to deal individually with the people that are dealing with evil,” he said. “We may need to make more mental health counseling available.”
Nunnelee also said he’s not interested in restricting law-abiding citizens’ access to guns.
On the state level, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, notes that he and other state Democrats set a policy luncheon Jan. 10 to discuss mental health and school safety, a conversation he said he is sure gun laws will be part of.
“Do I expect much to happen on either subject in the current climate?” Holland asked. “Probably not, but by God we’re going to have the conversation.”
Holland, a supporter of gun rights, said semi-automatic guns shouldn’t be readily available to everyone, even if that means bucking the politically powerful National Rifle Association.
“Nobody has the fortitude to stand up to the NRA and we’re going to have to tell the NRA to get out of our lives and let us make our decisions,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. When the founding fathers wrote the constitution, you had to stuff gunpowder down into the musket.”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says the right of the people keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Currently, any Mississippian 18 or older can purchase a firearm from a dealer after a background check, showing a valid government-issued photo identification and filling out a personal information form. A firearm is defined by the United States Code Chapter 44-921 as any weapon which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.
The background check makes sure the applicant hasn’t been convicted of a felony.
At age 21, a Mississippian can go through the same process to purchase a handgun.
Firearm dealers are required to be licensed through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the state attorney general’s office.
All federally licensed dealers are required to maintain the records of people who purchase firearms from them. The information is stored at the store selling the firearms, not in a national or statewide database. The information includes the firearm’s serial number, as well as the buyer’s personal information.
Private citizens can sell firearms, as long as it is not their primary occupation or means of income, without submitting the sale to a state or federal agency or documenting the sale. Private citizens must follow all firearm laws when selling firearms, regardless of documentation.
Federal law, through the Firearms Protection Act of 1986, generally outlaws the transfer and possession of machine guns or fully automatic weapons.
State law doesn’t allow the sale, manufacture or possession of firearm silencers or armor piercing ammunition.
Nunnelee said restricting or tightening access to guns would hurt only the law-abiding citizens who already go through legal purchasing avenues. He said people, like Adam Lanza – who is responsible for killing 27 people in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month – wouldn’t be affected by new laws because they don’t follow the current ones.
Holland, a funeral home director, said access to guns isn’t a problem but access to high-capacity guns is unnecessary. “We’ve got to stop this senseless killing and semi-automatic guns don’t need to be available to common citizens.”
Both officials emphasized a need for looking at mental health.
On Mississippi, the Department of Mental Health’s budget has been cut each year since its peak funding in 2008, losing 8.6 percent of its funding over the four-year period. The department took a $4.9 million cut (2.1 percent) in the 2013 fiscal year (ending June 30, 2013). Glynn Kegley of MDMH said the Joint Legislative Budget Committee has recommended a $5.9 million cut to next year’s budget from this year’s state source funding of $224,384,000. Kegley said the state pays about 38 percent of the department’s budget.
Gov. Phil Bryant recommended a smaller $3.4 million cut to next year’s mental health state funding but also proposed the state give the department $1.7 million after the cut with which the department would be required to do something completely new.
The $1.7 million could be a step in the direction Nunnelee mentioned. Kegley said the money would go toward community-based treatment instead of institutionalized treatment, something the U.S. Department of Justice recommended to MDMH this year.
Moving forward, the state and nation will have to decide if current, fairly unrestrictive gun laws are sufficient or if the laws need tightening. The MDMH may have an opportunity to find new ways of offering mental health access if the state Legislature approves Bryant and the DOJ’s recommendation.
Mississippi Gun Laws
97-37-1 It is a misdemeanor crime to carry a concealed deadly weapon unless otherwise licensed to do so.
97-37-3 Law enforcement agencies may seize any deadly weapons used in the commission of a crime or violation of 97-37-1.
97-37-5 It is a felony for previously convicted felons to be in possession of a firearm or deadly weapon.
97-37-7 Anyone acting as a guard (like a bank guard or money transporter) can be approved to carry a firearm by the Department of Public Safety.
97-37-9 Allows anyone with good reason to feel threatened, traveling, transporting valuables for an express company or bank, in lawful pursuit of a felon, engaged in legitimate sport or anyone who is a a certified guard, a law enforcement officer, armed forces member or mail carrier to carry a deadly weapon while discharging those duties.
97-37-13 It is a misdemeanor for anyone to give, lend, or sell a deadly weapon to a minor or intoxicated person.
97-37-14 It is a misdemeanor for a minor to have a handgun unless attending a hunter’s safety course, target shooting at an established range, competition shooting, hunting with a valid license or traveling to these activities with the gun unloaded.
97-37-15 It is a misdemeanor to allow a minor to carry or conceal a deadly weapon.
97-37-17 It is a felony to carry a deadly weapon on educational property, including college and university campuses.
97-37-19 It is a misdemeanor to brandish or display a weapon in a threatening or rude way.
97-37-29 Discharging a firearm into a dwelling or any place generally occupied by people is a felony.
97-37-30 Discharging a firearm toward a dwelling, including animal and livestock dwelling, is a misdemeanor.
97-37-31 Making, selling, using or having armor piercing ammunition or firearm silencers is a misdemeanor.
97-37-35 Having, receiving or disposing of stolen firearms is a felony.
97-37-37 Anyone found guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a felony can have their sentence increased by five years.
97-37-105 Anyone found trying to persuade a licensed dealer or private seller to transfer firearm or ammunition in violation of state or federal laws can be charged with a felony.
• A Mississippi resident 21 years of age and older can apply to carry a concealed weapon. They cannot have a prior conviction for violent or drug crime within three years of their application. The applicant cannot be convicted of two prior alcohol offenses within three years. The applicant cannot have been committed to a mental health treatment facility within five years and cannot be previously convicted of a felony.
• A conceal carry permit will not allow guns to be carried in a law enforcement office, a detention facility, a courthouse or courtroom (unless a sitting judge), a polling place, a meeting place of a governing body, a meeting place of the legislature or committee thereof, a school, college or professional athletic event not related to firearms, a portion of an establishment primarily devoted to dispensing alcohol for consumption, any educational facility, in an airport, in a place of worship or any place prohibited under federal law (including federal buildings). Anyone who controls a physical location can declare, by written notice, it a gun free zone.
• A firearms safety enhancement course offered through the Department of Public Safety will allow someone to carry a firearm in all previously mentioned places excluding law enforcement offices, detention facilities and federal buildings.