June 14, 2013 12:52:45 PM
JACKSON -- Mississippi sheriffs can ban people from openly carrying guns into courthouses, state Attorney General Jim Hood said in a legal opinion Thursday.
Hood issued the document in anticipation of a law that starts July 1. The opinion clarifies that people may openly carry guns in Mississippi without a concealed weapon permit. Some people had previously interpreted state law to say people couldn't carry a visible gun on the streets without a permit.
Attorney general's opinions aren't legally binding, although they provide legal protection to officials who follow them.
Deputy Attorney General Mike Lanford, writing for Hood, said courthouses are "the scene of emotionally charged disputes such as child custody battles, criminal prosecutions, property forfeitures, tax sales, etc." He wrote that a ban on openly-carried guns "is reasonably tailored to serve the governmental interest in preserving security for courthouse proceedings and personnel."
The opinion reaffirms that private property owners can prohibit guns and says guns remain illegal on school and college campuses. It also says that police officers can approach people carrying guns in public and ask them questions, such as if they are a convicted felon banned from carrying guns, but said that people don't have to answer.
Rick Ward of Brandon, a concealed weapon permit instructor, was among the advocates of the bill. He attended a Wednesday meeting of law enforcement officers to discuss the law, and said he believes many police chiefs and sheriffs are hostile to it.
"We are now an open-carry state," Ward said. "They are just going to have to deal with it."
A gun would be considered openly carried if any part of it is plainly visible, or if someone was carrying it in sheath or holster. For example, someone without a concealed weapon permit could carry a gun in the waistband of their pants or in their coat pocket as long as part of it wasn't "hidden or obscured from common observation."