June 29, 2013 8:42:18 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
A state judge blocked Mississippi's open-carry gun law from taking effect next week, writing in a Friday ruling that the law was vague and that an injunction was needed to prevent irreparable harm.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd scheduled a hearing July 8 to consider more arguments about whether to extend the injunction.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith requested that the law be blocked, and Kidd granted the temporary injunction during an emergency hearing.
In the 2013 legislative session, state lawmakers passed House Bill 2, a bill that redefined a concealed weapon and allows "open carry." In layman's terms, the law allows anyone to openly carry a firearm without a permit. Carrying a concealed firearm still requires a permit.
Locally, the chief of police is encouraging area businesses to specify whether or not they allow weapons on their premises.
In anticipation of the new law, Columbus Chief of Police Selvain McQueen said area merchants should be prepared and place a sign at the entrance to their business if they do not want firearms on the premises.
"I am going to send officers out, I want everyone to know they can come up here and get a copy of this to stick in the windows of their business, their homes, their personal property, wherever. No one other than legal law enforcement, people on legitimate business, can come on that area (with a firearm). You cannot carry a gun if there's a sign. That's it. I am literally encouraging anyone that has any concern to do this."
"We've always had this but what they did is they instituted the concealed weapon law," McQueen said.
"Now, the legislatures went into session and they said 'OK, if it's in a holster, it's no longer concealed.' The key to it is, if I take my shirt out, and throw it over it, it's concealed. With that thought in mind, I don't know where this thing is headed, we'll see."
McQueen said paper signs prohibiting firearms can be picked up at the Columbus Municipal Complex.
Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge said if the businesses have customers who disregard the signs, law enforcement will be available as reinforcement.
"They can prohibit them from bringing (firearms) in there. They can post a sign that no weapons are allowed in the business. If that doesn't do it, they can press charges against them for trespassing," Arledge said.
"They can call us and of course we will respond. It's a misdemeanor and it's up to the business owner to press charges but we'll be there to keep the peace."
Leigh Mall property manager Gail Culpepper said signs prohibiting firearms will be posted throughout the mall as well as the entrances.
"It's to protect the customers in the mall who feel uncomfortable when they pass someone with one on. Patrons and tenants have been asking me what I'm going to do. The mall is a 308,000 square foot facility so I decided I had to be proactive and do whatever I can to make this a safe place for people to come.
"As far as posting the signs, it is definitely something that I am going to do."
Glenn Baldwyn owns several restaurants in Columbus including Cattleman's, The Pit and Cone and Rub's Pub.
Baldwyn said all of his establishments will also ban open carry. He supported the chief's decisions to offer signs prohibiting firearms on the premises.
"I think that is a very good idea. You get someone in there who for some ungodly reason or another they get upset about something, it could get nasty," he said.
Lawmakers have opposing views
Local representative Esther Harrison, D-Lowndes, said she is opposed to the open carry law and questions the logic behind its passage.
"I'm opposed to that. I think it's dangerous and I think it makes the state look bad again in terms of passing laws," she said.
"The legislator that introduced the bill stated that the law was already on the books. If this law was on the books, you should have introduced a law to take it off."
Harrison said she also feels the new law could be a danger to public safety.
"It's dangerous for families, for children, to have persons walking around with guns. You have enough of that already and people are being killed," she said.
Representative Gary Chism sees it differently. Chism said he sees the open carry law as a constitutional right of Mississippians.
"The constitution of the state of Mississippi allowed open carry and this is no different. The only thing that House Bill 2 did was defined concealed carry and it was based upon an Attorney General's opinion issues last year that said if you have any part of the gun enclosed then that was considered concealed. So if you had it in a holster, it was considered concealed. If you didn't have a permit then you could be arrested. All house bill two said is 'Yes, you can put it in a holster; you can carry it on your person.'
"It just redefined what the word concealed meant because of a dumb attorney general opinion issued in 2012."
In addition to passing out signs, McQueen said he is drafting a proposed city ordinance prohibiting open carry in city buildings.
"With the law that they passed, the only properties that are exempt from open carry law are educational properties and the courtroom. If they just want to walk in here, unless I put this ordinance up, they can. So I'm going to address that issue and make it go to all city buildings."
Arledge said when the law was first introduced his officers were concerned about the public's reaction.
"I do have concerns that it is going to possibly make it more difficult especially in the first few months. Once people learn and their questions are answered then I think they'll feel a bit better."
While he is expecting initial problems from the new law, Arledge said as time passes law enforcement officials and the public may adjust to the idea of open carry.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.