Meridian Star

March 10, 2013

Concealed carry law clarified

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Phil Bryant put a lot of Mississippians at ease who have recently or are about to acquire a concealed weapons carry permit.

    Bryant signed HB 2, a law sponsored by Representative Andy Gipson (R-Brandon) that effectively explains what concealed means and how it impacts those who want to carry a firearm. For those in law enforcement, gun safety instructors and businesses that sell firearms, the law clears up a gray area that many people, given the rise in gun ownership and those wanting to carry a firearm, have been searching.

    "The wording of the original law left some things out," said Ron Payton, a firearm safety instructor for Modern Outfitters in Meridian. "There was a gray area that had a lot of my students questioning just what they could or could not do."

    And that was the reason why Ellisville Police Chief Bruce Russell sent a letter to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in June 2012. Russell, upon having several Ellisville citizens acquire their concealed carry permits, found himself getting into arguments with citizens over what was considered concealed and what wasn't.

    "They claimed, according to how they interpreted the law, that as long as the gun was in a holster that made it concealed," said Russell. "I kept trying to tell them it wasn't. That the firearm had to be concealed completely."

    Russell wrote the attorney general for clarification on the issue.

    HB 2 will change the law as it reads now, "any person who carries, concealed in whole or in part," to read, "any person who carries, concealed — on or about one's person." The restructure of these few words means beginning July 1 that if someone who is carrying a firearm and who has a concealed carry permit, will not be in violation of the law if by accident the firearm can be viewed by someone as a result of incidental exposure.

    "In other words, if I am carrying a firearm and I reach up in a grocery store to get a box of cereal off the shelf and my gun is exposed, then I'm protected under this new wording," Payton said. "Or if my coat is unzipped and the wind blows it open for a second and the gun is exposed, I'm protected under the new law. It just helps those people who carry firearms to know that if by accident the gun is seen by someone else they won't be in trouble."

    But citizens cannot parade around with a firearm openly displayed no matter what kind of permit they have.

    C. W. Garrett, owner of Garrett's Sport Center and Archery on Eighth Street, said he hasn't given the new law any thought. He said he keeps a gun on his person at all times and never has had an issue with law enforcement.

    "I guess it is a good thing the law addresses this so it is clearer to those people who are buying a firearm and who will carry it with them," Garrett said. "But I honestly don't think I've ever heard of anyone being arrested for this."

    Russell and Payton, who is a law enforcement veteran himself, have never arrested anyone either.

    "If I was called about someone having a gun I'd check their permit to see if it was up to date and I'd advise them on how to carry it properly," Payton said.

    The new law coming into play in July goes to great lengths to clarify that concealed means hidden or obscured from common observance.

    "This was something they, the legislators, needed to correct," said Russell.

    Still, Russell and Payton agreed it is best for gun carriers to ensure their firearm is concealed to the best of their ability, if for no other reason but to keep criminal eyes from coveting their guns.

    "You could be made a target just because you are carrying a fancy weapon," said Payton. "Plus, if something were to happen and you needed to use your weapon, you would want that element of surprise on your side. If a criminal were to know you were armed, you might be the the first target."