March 13, 2013 10:18:02 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
There were not many gun carriers in the room -- only about six or seven people said they held concealed carry permits -- but after Tuesday's Columbus Rotary Club meeting, some members said they are rethinking their stance.
Corporal Chris Turnipseed, acting public affairs officer with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, spoke to the club Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn, explaining the nuances of Mississippi's concealed carry laws.
Rotarian John Scarborough has been thinking about applying for a permit to carry a handgun, and after the meeting, he said he will probably follow through, especially as gun control talks escalate.
That's not surprising to Turnipseed. Before Dec. 14, 2012, MHP saw an average of 10 to 15 applications per week. But since the Newtown, Conn. school shooting -- which left 28 dead, including 20 children -- the number of people applying for concealed carry permits has quadrupled, with MHP now averaging 120 to 130 a week, Turnipseed said.
Experts say the reason is two-fold: Gun enthusiasts are concerned about personal safety as well as the possibility of stricter gun control laws that might make it more difficult to buy or own firearms.
Scarborough, who keeps a gun in his house, said he believes the efforts of gun control advocates have made average citizens like himself "more vulnerable." He fears that if it becomes harder to own a gun, criminals may become more bold, assuming their potential victims are unarmed.
Mississippi's five-year permits have relatively few requirements, but they come with a hefty price tag.
Any person 21 or older who has been a resident for at least 12 consecutive months can lawfully carry a concealed weapon as long as they are not a convicted felon, have not been charged with a violent misdemeanor within the past three years, and have no record of drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness. They also cannot have a physical infirmity which would make it difficult to safely use or control a gun. The residency requirement may be waived for permit holders from other states, as well as active military and retired law enforcement.
The average person will pay $132 for a permit -- $100 for the permit and $32 for fingerprinting and a background check -- and will receive it within 45 days. Persons 65 and older pay $25 for the permit. Renewals are $50.
Once obtained, a concealed carry permit allows the permit holder to carry a stun gun, pistol or revolver into most public places with the exception of courthouses, detention facilities, poll centers, public parks, schools and colleges, churches, airports, establishments that serve alcohol and any place where guns are prohibited by federal law. Guns are also not allowed at meetings of governmental or legislative bodies, parades and demonstrations and professional athletics events.
But with an enhanced carry permit, even some of these regulations may be relaxed, Turnipseed said. The enhanced permit allows the holder to carry a concealed weapon in most places with the exception of police, sheriff and highway patrol stations; detention facilities, prisons and jails; courtrooms during court proceedings; "places of nuisance" where criminal activity is occurring or likely to occur; and anywhere guns are prohibited by federal law.
To obtain the permit, which is marked with an "IC" sticker, the permit holder must attend a day-long, certified firearms training course.
Walt Starr, a local periodontist, obtained his concealed carry permit four years ago for self-defense, but he said he has not seen the need for the enhanced permit. An avid hunter, both locally and internationally, Starr said he has taught his daughters to shoot and intends to encourage them to obtain concealed carry permits when they are old enough.
But some Rotarians were mainly concerned with the legalities of having a gun in their homes or vehicles -- both of which state code allows without a permit.
Bill Walker, vice-president of Brickyard Properties, carries a .38 revolver in his vehicle and hasn't felt the need to carry concealed anywhere else, but he said lately, he has been considering obtaining a permit.
"With all the craziness that's going on in the world, you just never know," he said as he walked through the Holiday Inn parking lot after the meeting. "I'd like to have that option."
Despite increased talk of gun control, Turnipseed said guns and gun owners are safe, for now. But even enthusiasts like Starr feel some measures should be enforced, namely more funding to help those with mental illnesses, which he feels are the root cause of incidents like the Newtown tragedy.
"I wish we could spend more money on that, not picking on gun owners," he said.
For more information about Mississippi gun laws and concealed carry permits, visit dps.state.ms.us.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.