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VOL. 128 | NO. 171 | Monday, September 02, 2013

Mississippi High Court Upholds Open-Carry Gun Law

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS | Associated Press

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state's open carry-gun law Thursday, allowing it to take effect after a circuit judge's order had kept it on hold about two months.

"This court now finds that the circuit judge erred as a matter of law when he found House Bill 2 to be vague and, therefore, unconstitutional. He also erred when he stated that a 'reasonable person reading the bill could not discern what the law allows and what it prohibits,'" according to the ruling signed by Justice Randy Pierce.

Earlier this year, legislators passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill that says adults don't need a permit to carry a gun that's not concealed.

Several officials, including the Hinds County district attorney, sued to block the law, saying there could be chaos if people were openly carrying guns in public places. Circuit Judge Winston Kidd put the measure on hold just before it was to become law July 1.

After hearing arguments, Kidd issued an injunction July 12, saying the law was on hold until the Legislature can clarify it.

Justices overturned Kidd's injunction Thursday. They made the ruling based on written arguments filed by opponents and supporters of the law; they did not hear oral arguments.

The main sponsor of House Bill 2, Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, said Thursday that he's pleased with the justices' unanimous ruling.

"It just confirms, in a very real sense, the right to keep and bear arms," Gipson told The Associated Press.

Democratic Sen. John Horhn of Jackson is one of the 10 elected officials who sued to try to block the law. Horhn voted for House Bill 2 in the spring but later said he regretted that vote because he believes the law could put law enforcement officers' lives in danger if people with no firearms training are carrying guns.

"Not even the state Supreme Court in Mississippi is free from the powers of persuasion of the National Rifle Association," Horhn said after the ruling Thursday.

NRA filed a legal brief in support of the law.

Republican Bryant, like many supporters of the law, has said it restates the right to bear arms that's in the Mississippi Constitution.

"I am very pleased that the court has agreed that House Bill 2 is consistent with the Constitution so that law will now take effect statewide," Bryant said in a news release Thursday.

Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, defended the open-carry law in court. Hood issued a nonbinding legal opinion June 13 that says guns can still be banned in courthouses and other public buildings. At many places, including the Capitol, courthouses, city halls and public parks, officials have posted signs to show that weapons are prohibited.

Bryant has said he has no argument with guns being banned in government buildings. Even with the open-carry law taking effect, a previous state law bans most guns on school and college campuses.

Hood said a question about another Mississippi gun law still awaits resolution.

A local school board attorney has requested an attorney general's opinion about enhanced concealed carry permits – the type of permit that requires a person to undergo firearms training. Hood said a law specifies that a person with an enhanced concealed carry permit may take a firearm to a sporting event. He said that because the enhanced concealed carry law appears to conflict with another law that bans guns on campus, his staff is analyzing the law to provide guidance on whether schools or universities can prohibit all firearms, even those carried by someone with an enhanced permit.

Opinions issued by the attorney general's office are nonbinding but provide guidance to government bodies as they set policies.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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