Jim Prince: Free state of Mississippi

January 31, 2013 10:26:12 AM



Even law enforcement will admit Mississippi's concealed-carry gun law is a joke. 


Citizens already can legally possess a firearm anywhere in their house, car or business without a permit. 


The average citizen does not want to carry a weapon on his side and walk down the street - although we technically possess that right under the Constitution. 


The state, disturbingly, will pretty much give anyone a concealed-carry permit for a small fee - or tax, if you will. 


The state took in about $250,000 in December alone in concealed-carry permit fees, according to the Department of Public Safety. 


And we didn't ask for the names, by the way, because we don't want them, just the number of permits - the names would be sealed in the future under legislation Sen. Will Longwitz, R-Madison, is backing with every ounce of his being. 


The fine for not actually carrying a gun permit when confronted by a law enforcement officer? A $25 non-criminal offense - as it should be non-criminal. But what's the point? 


The Second Amendment - and the First Amendment - were created to protect a free republic. Neither amendment should be used as an inspiration against the other, yet the GOP leadership in the Mississippi Legislature has surprisingly chosen to do precisely that. 


Understandably, no gun owner wants his or her name and/or address published anywhere - the web or in print - simply because they own a firearm. 


No respectable newspaper publisher would print those names, although in other places they have, most recently a liberal New York newspaper attempting to make a political point. 


Mississippi is not New York! 


I believe there is a reasonable compromise here that can satisfy First Amendment and Second Amendment purists and those in between. 


But the Mississippi House would not even listen to what newspaper publishers - specifically, the Mississippi Press Association of which I am the president - had to say before they quickly passed a bill out of committee Monday evening and it was rushed to the floor for a 101-18 vote on Tuesday. 


Why not at least entertain a civil discussion and hear from an organization that claims 1.5 million readers combined weekly - more than half the population? 


For example, why not make the default status the freedom to carry a concealed weapon, but keep the same disqualifiers the government currently uses to deny a permit and make it a crime to violate those disqualifiers? 


Sealing records does not protect the privacy of gun owners because the records don't belong to the gun owners. These are government records on gun owners. Sealing these records closes public scrutiny of those government records. 


If two different people applied for a permit and one with government influence was approved and the other without those connections was denied, how could the public know?  


If many people were denied permits and took their questions to the press, how could the press know if they represented 2 percent or 20 percent of the applications or whether that was a normal rate or not? 


If a politician wanted to outlaw the ability to carry a concealed weapon and said, "not many people carry one anyway" how could the truth come out? 


As the press, we are the watchdogs of government, but this measure out of the House that's headed to the Senate prevents public review of government documents that belong to the public. 


Once these records are sealed from public view, who gets access? Friends of the governor? The head of the Highway Patrol? The chairman of the Republican Party? A deputy sheriff in Rankin County? 


State law enforcement for sure would have access, perhaps federal law enforcement - or under Obamacare, perhaps healthcare providers. 


Maybe it's politicians with ties to law enforcement or healthcare. In other words, the information isn't "private," it just can't be seen by you. 


Government documents do not belong to the government. They do not belong to the person they are about. They belong to the people, to the public, and sealing those records or preventing the public from viewing the records is tantamount to seizure and theft.  


Sealing records of gun owners elevates the government above the people rather than a servant of the people. The Founders rightly feared government. So should we. 


Call it totalitarianism, call it fascism, call it communism: When the government takes authority away from the people, our freedom as a people diminishes. And that is just what the Second Amendment - and the First Amendment - were created to protect: Our free republic. 


The Mississippi Senate has an opportunity to bring calm and reason to this gun discussion. And for the sake of civility, the Constitution and our republic, the Senate should seek a reasonable compromise with which we can all live.