By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
Firearms permit holders who were hoping to expand the places in which they can legally carry as of July 1 have been disappointed, and legislators who wrote the enhanced-endorsement legislation say the Department of Public Safety is countering their intent.
House Bill 506, which authorizes prosecutors and public defenders to carry concealed firearms, also authorizes civilian firearms permit holders with qualifying safety training to conceal carry in several places formerly off-limits, including courthouses, city halls and churches.
Reps. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, Mark Formby, R-Picayune, and Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, the amendment’s authors, wrote of their concerns on Thursday to MDPS Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz.
“The intent … was to allow concealed carry permit holders to voluntarily complete a firearms training course taught by NRA-certified or DPS-approved instructors, and … protect themselves in more places than currently permissible by law,” the three legislators wrote.
Controversy arises, however, with MDPS’s plans not to recognize any training taken before July 1, when the law went into effect. Oxford attorney Reed Martz has followed the issue since its inception and says it appears MDPS “intends to regulate the law out of existence.”
“The provision that no prior training – regardless of quality or quantity – qualifies for the endorsement defies reason,” he said. “Were all that not enough, MDPS has no idea when the courses will even be available, as they have not approved a single instructor as of the law’s effective date. No one has a clue what the course will cost. The endorsement hardly seems worth the trouble.”
The amendment was worded specifically to accept firearms safety training provided by any instructor certified by the National Rifle Association, along with others approved by the MDPS.
“That was the intent of what we did – to allow the state to recognize these NRA instructors, among others, to be able to conduct this kind of training,” Snowden said. “We think that’s a trustworthy organization for this kind of thing.”
Master Sgt. Eugene Williams Jr., who oversees MDPS’s firearms permit division in Jackson, said his department plans to require two days of training for the enhancement – more than most states require for a basic permit.
“We’re in the process of selecting instructors for a 16-hour course,” he said.
Maj. Jason Jennings of MDPS oversees both firearms permits and driver’s licenses. Jennings said only training delivered after July 1 by instructors certified by the department will count toward the endorsement.
“It’s a decision we made. We’re going from July 1 forward,” he said. “That’s the best one we could come up with.”
Timothy Smith, an attorney with MDPS, said without elaborating that the department decided to design its own training requirement “because of liability concerns.”
Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, one of the authors of House Bill 506, was surprised to learn that MDPS is disallowing prior training.
“That’s clearly not how the law was written,” he said. “Our intent was that any safe-handling course would be acceptable.”
Doug Bowser, a firearms trainer from McComb who has multiple certifications from the NRA and other shooting organizations, said MDPS should change its policies.
“Previous courses should be allowed, and NRA instructors and their courses should automatically be allowed,” he said.
Snowden, Formby and Gunn letter wrote to Santa Cruz that NRA-certified instructors should be recognized upon receipt of their registration and curriculum, that either the NRA’s Basic Pistol Shooting or Personal Protection course should satisfy the training requirement and that such classes taken within the past 12 months should be accepted.
The three legislators said in their letter to Santa Cruz, “We would not have brought such an amendment forward, and NRA would not have supported it, had we foreseen the current direction the agency is taking with its implementation,” adding that there was no intent “to ‘deputize’ carry permit holders, but to allow those who voluntarily seek civilian training to protect themselves in additional locations.”
Asked Friday if the legislators’ letter had changed any plans for the HB506 implementation, Jennings replied, “No, sir.”
Snowden told the Daily Journal that he and his colleagues may have to refine their instructions for MDPS.
“I guess we can spell it out for them next year,” he said. “I would hate for us to have to do that, but I have no doubt that we will do that.”
One other issue that legislators and permit holders have found frustrating is MDPS’ inability to provide the special endorsements upon the bill’s July 1 effective date.
“When we pass bills, we expect them to be implemented,” Jones said. “It had overwhelming support in the House and in the Senate, and the governor signed it.”
MDPS’ Smith said his agency wasn’t given enough time to implement the law. (Gov. Haley Barbour signed the bill on March 11.)
“This legislation came as a surprise to us,” he said.
Martz, the attorney from Oxford, disputes that claim, saying he called Williams within days of the bill’s signing and visited the office in person soon thereafter to speak about the bill’s implementation.
“Both times I asked the legal department to call me to discuss,” he said. “No one ever returned my calls. … I expect and demand they be more on top of this.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.