Thursday, July 4, 2013
Open-carry gun law put on hold by judge
By SUE WATSON
A new law allowing adults in Mississippi to carry a handgun openly without a permit was challenged and blocked Friday, a few days short of taking effect.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith requested the law be blocked, according to media reports. Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd then granted the injunction and set a hearing for July 8. It will determine whether to extend the injunction.
The open-carry gun law was originally slated to take effect Monday of this week, July 1.
In an interview last week before the injunction, Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson said House Bill 2 does not pose a problem for law-abiding people but that the law has potential for trouble.
About 15 to 20 percent of the public could cause trouble for law enforcement, he said.
“The law will not do us any favors,” Dickerson said of law enforcement. “I can’t see any plusses in it for us.”
Anyone who carries a concealed weapon in Mississippi is required to have a gun permit under existing state law.
Open-carry laws do not require the gun be unloaded while carrying it. A magazine with rounds would be legal to carry openly.
Sheriff Dickerson said common sense applies to the open carry law. Banks, for example, will not likely honor open carry, the sheriff said.
The law also prohibits carrying a weapon on school grounds, on courthouse properties, or on privately owned properties.
Businesses, such as banks and convenience stores, are required to post a sign that says no firearms allowed, if they wish to prohibit persons from open carrying a firearm into their store or place of business, said Maj. David Cook with the sheriff’s department. The individual who carries a gun past a warning sign can be charged with trespass after warning, a misdemeanor, he said. A business owner may also give a verbal warning to anyone carrying a gun instead of a written one.
Cook, patrol supervisor, said the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution give citizens the right to bear arms. The amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
He said the biggest concern for law enforcement is how to enforce House Bill 2.
“We’ve got to rethink how we handle armed individuals – particularly individuals who openly carry a gun,” Cook said.
Under House Bill 2, law enforcement has the right to ask a person carrying a weapon for his or her identification so law enforcement can ascertain if the individual has the legal right to possess the weapon. But the individual does not have to provide their identification in such cases, according to an opinion released by Attorney General Jim Hood.
Hood’s office has defended the law and said the injunction came too late, according to media sources.
Cook said the public will have to adjust to the probability of someone testing the law by carrying a pistol in their belt or waistband. And law enforcement will have a problem in training officers. The officers will have to be retrained in how to handle an armed individual.
“A lot of problem is the unknown of how the law-abiding public will react,” Cook said. “It will be a learning curve. We are concerned business owners will not know to post signs.”
Open carry includes revolvers, pistols, shotguns or long rifles, he said.
The open carry does not allow a person to brandish a firearm even though a person may be legally carrying one, Cook said.
Marshall County will post signs prohibiting firearms in county buildings, at the courthouse, at justice court, and at the courtrooms, Cook said.
The law will also affect game and fish wardens who legally confront individuals carrying hunting guns.
Holly Springs Police Chief William Hollowell said property owners have the option of not allowing open carry on their property. He thinks initially that the law will generate a lot of calls.
But, in states like Texas and Montana that have passed open carry, the law seems to have reduced crimes against persons and residential burglaries, he said.
Convicted felons, gang members and criminals will likely not open carry, Hollowell said, because it would bring attention to themselves.
“I think the law will be used by honest citizens,” he said.
If a person openly carries a long rifle and someone reports it to police, Hollowell said police will show up and question the person on why he is carrying a shotgun or rifle on the street.
“We have to respond if a citizen calls about a long barrel or an assault rifle,” the chief said.
The police department has sent officers for training in how to respond to open carry, he said. He thinks officers understand the principles of open carry, and he thinks the law will stand.
Hollowell said he does not expect many people to open carry.
“A person still cannot handle a gun in a rude and angry manner,” he said. “It would still be a crime to do so.”
He said he does not expect the police to be challenged by gangs and groups over open carry.
“They don’t want to do that,” he said.
Jonathan Moore, with Booker Hardware, said Holly Springs Police Chief William Hollowell was passing out suggested posters to businesses in an effort to get the word out around Holly Springs.
Moore said Booker will get some signs made up – about the size of 8 by 10 inches – that he will post at the business and he will also sell them at Booker’s. The signs are on plastic and have an adhesive backing, he said. They must be posted on the outside of a business, either on a window or front door.
“I think the police chief is trying to get all businesses to put them up,” he said.
The sign he is making will have a gun with a circle and slash to indicate guns are not allowed inside. It will carry the wording “The carrying of a pistol or revolver on this premises is prohibited per Mississippi Code 45-9-101 (13).”
The open carry applies to anyone of age 18 or older. Minors are not permitted to open carry.
The Mississippi Constitution, Article 3, Section 12 states: The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person or property or in the aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called into question, but the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.
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