Judge extends hold on open carry law

July 13, 2013 6:36:11 PM



JACKSON -- A Hinds County circuit judge on Friday extended his hold on Mississippi's open-carry gun law, declaring it "without question, unconstitutionally vague." 


Judge Winston Kidd put an injunction on the law until the state Legislature can clarify it. Attorney General Jim Hood said he is likely to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn Kidd's ruling. 


Earlier this year, legislators passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 2, which says adults don't need a permit to carry a gun that's not concealed. It was supposed to become law July 1, but Kidd put a hold on it June 28. Kidd heard arguments Monday on whether to extend that hold. 


"This case has nothing to do with taking away a citizen's right to lawfully carry a weapon," Kidd wrote in his order Friday. "Citizens have always had the right to carry a weapon and that right will continue to exist, regardless of the ultimate outcome of House Bill 2. A legally obtained permit will continue to allow a citizen to carry a concealed weapon. The proponents of House Bill 2's contentions of 'taking away gun rights' are unfounded and do not exist." 


Hinds County's district attorney, sheriff, four constables and four state senators sued to block the law, saying they feared people could become trigger-happy and put law enforcement officers and civilians in danger. Supporters of the law said it simply restates the right to bear arms that's listed in the Mississippi Constitution. 


During the hearing Monday, plaintiffs' attorney Lisa Ross asked Kidd to declare the law unconstitutionally vague because "men and women of common intelligence" could disagree about its effect. 


"We're preparing for the battle before the Mississippi Supreme Court," Ross said Friday in an email to The Associated Press.  


"We hope that Mississippi's highest court will agree with Judge Kidd that House Bill 2 is unconstitutionally vague and that every person does not have the right to carry guns anytime, anywhere for any reason in Mississippi." 


The attorney general's office has three weeks to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, then justices would set their own timetable to consider the appeal. 


"It remains the duty of this office to defend our state laws and their constitutionality," Hood, a Democrat, said in a written statement Friday. 


Assistant Attorney General Harold Pizzetta told Kidd on Monday that House Bill 2 makes clear that no state-issued permit is needed to openly carry a gun. 


"It is clear you don't need an open-carry permit to walk down the middle of the street and mind your own business," Pizzetta said Monday. 


Kidd wrote Friday: "House Bill 2 does more than define 'concealed.' It creates confusion and chaos with respect to the enforcement of gun laws here in this state." 


He wrote that House Bill 2 does not specify who is allowed to openly carry a weapon in a holster, or where they may do so. 


"A reasonable person reading the bill can not discern what the law allows and what it prohibits," Kidd wrote. 


Even if an open-carry law eventually takes effect, a previous law bans guns on school and college campuses. 


Hood issued a nonbinding legal opinion June 13 that says guns can still be banned in courthouses and other public buildings. At many places, including the Capitol, officials have posted signs to show that weapons are prohibited. 


Bryant, a Republican, said this week that he believes House Bill 2 will become law, even if it happens under an order from the state Supreme Court. 


"Gov. Bryant continues to believe that the Mississippi Constitution affirms the right of citizens to keep and bear arms as described in House Bill 2," Bryant spokeswoman Nicole Roberts said Friday. "This bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Mississippi Legislature, and it is disappointing that a judge could essentially overthrow the will of an entire elected body." 


Kidd wrote that "when the legislature creates laws which are vague, confusing and overbroad, then it is the responsibility of the Court to make a determination as to the law's constitutionality." 


House Bill 2 passed the House 111-8 on Jan. 29 and the Senate 51-0 on Feb. 27. Bryant signed it March 4. 


The chief sponsor of House Bill 2, Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, said its main purpose was to clarify the definition of a concealed weapon. He said it was filed in response to a 2012 opinion issued by the attorney general's office, which said that a concealed weapon must be completely covered. House Bill 2 says the definition of concealed weapon does not include a pistol carried in a holster if it is wholly or partially visible.