By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Jackson attorney Lisa Ross said in Hinds County Circuit Court on Monday that she was sure legislators who passed a proposal to clarify that Mississippians could carry their weapons in the open included a provision to protect themselves in the state Capitol.
Sure enough, since soon after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, metal detectors went up, security was put in place and signs posted warning no weapons allowed in most state buildings.
Most local – city and county officials – followed suit.
And since the Legislature passed a controversial bill during the 2013 session clarifying what many believe always has been the case but was seldom talked about – that Mississippi is an open-carry state – the signs at the state Capitol have gotten much bigger.
No-weapons-allowed signs completed with bright red letters are posted at the many entrances of the people’s building – our state Capitol. Similar signs can be found at most state office buildings.
In an official opinion on the new law, Attorney General Jim Hood said there are certain “sensitive areas” where other state laws and previous court rulings have determined that weapons can be banned. These “sensitive areas” include schools, courthouses and other governmental buildings, including the majestic Capitol.
One of the reasons for these sensitive areas, Hood said courts have reasoned, is that intense and emotional debate often occurs in these buildings.
The result of such debate could be anger that could be dangerous if guns were added to the equation.
Where would you feel less safe – in a debate of mostly middle-age, gun-packing men about Medicaid expansion in front of television cameras or in a restaurant where in the adjacent bar two gun-toting drunks were arguing about a drug-deal or why one tried to make a move on the other’s girl?
And don’t give me that argument that the two drunks can be arrested for public intoxication so everyone would be safe. If you can’t be drunk in a bar, where can you be drunk?
The one saving grace is that property owners have the right to ban weapons on their premises if they so choose. The question is whether businesses will want to upset the pro-open carry crowd. And I understand the rationale that it is important to keep weapons out of official buildings, such as the Capitol, because of the possible desire by someone to make a symbolic statement by causing damage in a high visibility public building.
The gun debate – more specifically debate about open carry – is a difficult one. The 1890s Mississippi Constitution states that the Legislature “may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.” Thus open carry supporters argue that the rest of Section 12 of the Constitution stating “the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms…shall not be called into question” paves the way for open carry.
It makes sense especially since the framers highlight the Legislature’s authority to regulate concealed carry.
But it almost seems counterintuitive to say the Legislature can regulate concealed carry, including requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but cannot require such a process for open carry.
The argument I guess is that a person with a concealed weapon is more dangerous than a person leaving nothing – weapons-wise – to the imagination.
Those are interesting questions attorney Ross presents as she tries to convince the judiciary to block the enactment of the law.
But at least I finally have figured out why House Speaker Philip Gunn had a controversial dinner earlier this year with campaign supporters after hours in the state Capitol – he knew that it would be weapons-free.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.