July 10, 2013 10:15:20 AM
JACKSON -- Even if Mississippi's open carry gun law takes effect, people still won't be allowed to take firearms into the Capitol or many other state or local government buildings.
State agencies have the power to set rules for the properties they oversee. Mississippi government's biggest landlord, the Department of Finance and Administration, is among the agencies that have filed updated policies to limit on firearms on public property.
State Attorney General Jim Hood said two U.S. Supreme Court decisions have specified guns can be banned on education property and in government buildings.
"The terminology they use is 'sensitive places,'" Hood told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
House Bill 2, passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Phil Bryant earlier this year, attempts to clarify the definition of concealed weapons. It was supposed to become law July 1 but has been put on hold, at least temporarily.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd said he'll decide by Friday whether to extend his order halting the law. The Hinds County district attorney and some constables sued to block the measure they call unconstitutionally vague. Supporters say the law simply reinforces the right to bear arms that's guaranteed in the Mississippi Constitution.
In a nonbinding legal opinion June 13, Hood said even after the open carry law takes effect, guns can still be banned in public buildings such as county courthouses and on private property, including restaurants and shops. He also noted state law already bans guns on school and college campuses.
On July 1, Lowndes County supervisors authorized board attorney Tim Hudson to draft an order that would prohibit open carry weapons of any nature in all county facilities. The city of Columbus has an ordinance on the books prohibiting weapons, but Councilman Kabir Karriem asked council attorney Jeff Turnage during a July 2 meeting to draft an ordinance similar to the county's.
Hood said Tuesday he advised state agencies to give public notice about their gun policies, in case there's a legal dispute in the future. New or proposed gun rules for some agencies are available on the secretary of state's website.
Weapons have long been forbidden in the century-old Capitol, except for those carried by law enforcement officers. Signs posted on the main entrances make that clear.
DFA is banning openly carried firearms in other state offices it oversees, including the Gartin Justice Building, the Sillers and Woolfolk buildings, the secretary of state's office and the state archives building, all in downtown Jackson. DFA also bans openly carried firearms in the Department of Marine Resources headquarters in Biloxi and in the State Service Center in Hattiesburg.
DFA "has determined that all of these properties contain sensitive areas and that it would be in the government's interest to protect these buildings by declaring a ban on the open carry of weapons on these properties," the agency wrote in its June 28 filing.
The Department of Public Safety said in its June 19 filing that only law-enforcement officers can carry firearms in driver's license offices, Highway Patrol stations or other buildings owned or operated by DPS.
"These buildings are deemed sensitive places in which a regulation prohibiting the carrying of firearms serves the governmental interest of preserving security for the Department of Public Safety's operations and personnel," the agency wrote.
The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks bans the open carry of firearms in state parks, but allows people to carry concealed weapons if they have a state-issued permit. The agency wrote in its May 28 administrative filing that "a firearm is not considered to be lawfully 'concealed' if it is within any motor vehicle," and that any person who lacks a concealed-carry permit must keep a firearm secured, preferably in a locked case, while in the park.
The agency also noted "dynamite, firecrackers, rockets or torpedoes" are forbidden in state parks without written permission of the agency's executive director.
Republican Rep. Sam Mims of McComb, one of several sponsors of House Bill 2, conceded Tuesday it's ironic that weapons are banned in Capitol, where the open carry bill was passed. It was filed in response to a 2012 opinion issued by Hood's office, which said a concealed weapon must be completely covered. The bill said the definition of concealed weapon does not include a pistol carried in a holster if it is wholly or partially visible.
"We always have to be mindful that we have the right to carry," Mims said.
Dispatch reporter Nathan Gregory contributed to this report.
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