County repeals gun ordinance, for now

Lafayette County supervisors on Monday repealed the county ban on armed civilians in courthouses – an ordinance that arguably conflicted with two state laws and could have left supervisors individually liable for $1,000 in damages.

“In light of recent statutory changes in rights to bear arms on public property in particular, it required that we relook at our ordinance,” said Board Attorney David O’Donnell. “We also received an administrative complaint from the Attorney General’s Office.”

A 2012 state law allows people with enhanced firearms permits, which require eight hours of state-certified training, to carry a concealed handgun in a number of public spaces off limits to those with basic permits. In addition, a 2013 law clarified the legality of open carry of weapons in Mississippi.

“The state has expressed a desire to subsume the whole area of weapons regulations with certain exceptions,” said Reed Martz, an Oxford attorney.

In response to those recent-year relaxations in gun restrictions, governing boards of several municipalities and counties enacted their own local bans on carrying either open or concealed firearms in courthouses, city halls and other public spaces.

The 2014 Legislature put teeth into state preemption by providing that citizens can now sue local officials personally who enact or enforce gun bans that conflict with state law.
Complaints must be made to the Attorney General’s Office, which would have 30 days to investigate and give notice to the offending entity, which would have another 30 days to rescind its ban before civil damages could be sought by the person affected. Any damages or defense costs could not be paid with taxpayer funds.

Martz, representing the group Mississippi Carry, has filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office against 20-something entities under the 2014 law, including Itawamba County, Lafayette County, Lee County, Marshall County, Monroe County, Oxford Park Commission, Oxford RSVP, Sturgis and Vardaman in Northeast Mississippi.

Supervisor Mike Pickens made the motion to repeal Lafayette County’s ordinance with the understanding that the county would seek action from the county’s circuit and chancery judges. Judges in several districts around Mississippi have handed down orders banning all civilian carry within courthouses, despite the state law’s provisions regarding enhanced firearms permits.

“I’m following the advice of the county attorney, and we’re trying to stay within the realm of state law without infringing on anybody’s rights,” Pickens said. “We’ve never had a problem and don’t anticipate a problem, but it’s something we have to address.”

Oxford gun bans:
Mixed ruling
The City of Oxford also was the subject of a complaint by Mississippi Carry. While city officials agreed to take down a sign at the RSVP office banning guns, the Attorney General’s Office decided Oxford Park Commission’s ban was permissible.

“The concealed carry statutes do not mention public parks,” said attorney Paul Watkins, who advises several Oxford municipal entities, including the Park Commission. “Under our statutory system, there are a lot of locations that you can carry, but under the statutes and AG opinions we have, we have been told cities may ban carry in parks.”

Martz disagreed.

“In all fairness, the AG’s letter did say there was no violation,” he said. “But there will be more on that. That’s not over; the AG is wrong.”

Twitter: @oxfordcitizenec

About Errol Castens

I'm a news reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Focusing on Oxford and Lafayette County, I've been a part of the L-O-U community since 1991.