By Errol Castens
A proposed state law aims to enable citizens to sue officials who create or enforce local gun bans that contravene state law.
House Bill 314 would allow citizens to collect up to $1,000 plus legal fees from any official under whose jurisdiction the violation occurred.
“If a city or county has adopted an illegally broad ordinance regarding guns or posted notice outside their authority … they could be sued to have that cured,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, the bill’s primary author.
If the bill passes, citizens adversely affected by a local gun ban could share evidence with the Attorney General’s Office, which would have 30 days to investigate. If the allegations were found true, the city or county would have 30 days to rescind the action before a lawsuit may be filed.
Several counties and municipalities have prohibited firearms on public properties in response to recent state legislation.
“I think that it is a well-intentioned but misinformed attempt to assure public safety,” said attorney Reed Martz of Oxford. “Not only are they not following the law; they are not following the logic and common sense” that they do not deter criminals.
A 2011 statute authorized an enhanced firearms permit that allowed people who take prescribed training to carry concealed weapons in most public places otherwise prohibited to them, including courthouses, city halls, churches, schools and colleges.
In 2013, a bill addressed open carry of firearms – including in visible holsters or cases. Its supporters say it clarified the Mississippi State Constitution’s provision that the right to keep and bear firearms “shall not be called in question.”
Gipson said HB 314 will give citizens a way to counter local preemption.
“People shouldn’t have to be pointing out overreach of local ordinances,” he said. “The law is clear, but right now there’s no remedy for citizens to address them.”
More than 50 representatives are co-sponsoring Gipson’s bill, but some gun rights activists are not waiting for new laws before pushing back. Mississippi Carry, Inc., is working with Martz to warn municipalities and counties, including Rienzi and Vardaman in Northeast Mississippi, whose ordinances and postings appear to be in conflict with state law.
In addition, the city of Corinth was advised in a recent Attorney General’s opinion that its weapons ordinance is more restrictive than state law allows.