Meridian Star

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July 14, 2013

Gun rights legislation could backfire

MERIDIAN — On Friday, Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd extended his injunction on what has been dubbed Mississippi's open carry gun law.

    In his ruling, Kidd called House Bill 2 unconstitutionally vague.

    Attorney General Jim Hood is expected to appeal Kidd's decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

    It's a manufactured issue that should have never come up in the first place.

    Earlier this year Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 2, which had been approved by legislators.

    The intended purpose of the law was to clarify the definition of a "concealed" weapon. Proponents argued that a person legally carrying a concealed weapon could be in violation of the law if the gun were accidentally exposed to public view.

    The confusion can be traced back to a 2012 opinion issued by Hood that states that a Mississippi permit holder carrying a concealed weapon must keep the weapon completely concealed.

    "This provision does not authorize a person to carry a pistol 'concealed in part,' but requires that it be totally concealed," Hood wrote in the opinion.

    House Bill 2 eliminates the permit requirement as long as the weapon is carried in a holster that is wholly or partially visible. The law was passed as a means to circumvent Hood's opinion.

    We think legislators overreacted. We doubt there have been many — if any — instances of otherwise law abiding citizens being arrested because their legally permitted concealed weapon was inadvertently exposed to public view.

    And House Bill 2 has caused some confusion among law enforcement officers tasked with upholding the state's laws.

    In a Jun 23 article, Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp told The Meridian Star, "I've got some questions I would like to ask myself. This law creates some potential problems for us as law enforcement officers and I'd like to get the Attorney General's office opinion on some of the things we might run into."

    Proponents of House Bill 2 say that the law strengthens rights outlined in Article 3, section 12 of the Mississippi Constitution, which states: "The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons."

    In his ruling, Kidd states, "This court has found no case law, or any other authority, which gives an individual the absolute right 'to open carry' a weapon, as contended by the state. Moreover, the Supreme Court of the United States found the language 'to keep and bear arms' in the Second Amendment to guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.' This under no circumstances would allow an individual to walk around openly carrying a weapon.

    "'To keep and bear arms in defense of home, person or property means exactly what it says. It means you can possess a weapon to defend your home, person or property. The defendant has not cited any specific section of the constitution which provides for 'open carry.' They have not done so because it does not exist."

    Kidd argues that the case has nothing to do with taking away a citizen's right to lawfully carry a weapon.

    "Citizens have always had the right to carry a weapon and that right will continue to exist, regardless of the outcome of House Bill 2," Kidd wrote. "A legally obtained permit will continue to allow a citizen to carry a concealed weapon."

    Bryant said this week that he believes House Bill 2 will become law, even if it   comes under review by the Supreme Court.

    During a hearing Monday, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Lisa Ross, asked Kidd to declare the law unconstitutionally vague because "men and women of common intelligence" could disagree about its effect.

    "We're preparing for the battle before the Mississippi Supreme Court," Ross said Friday in an email to The Associated Press. "We hope that Mississippi's highest court will agree with Judge Kidd that House Bill 2 is unconstitutionally vague and that every person does not have the right to carry guns anytime, anywhere for any reason in Mississippi."

    Legislators efforts to stand up for gun owners rights could backfire on them, depending on how the state's high court reacts. They might have been better served had they not been so quick on the draw.

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