July 18, 2013 10:14:01 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Wednesday that law-enforcement officers are confused about whether Mississippi has an open-carry gun law. Then, during a news conference intended to clarify the situation, Hood gave an explanation that even he conceded was "probably, you know, as clear as mud."
Hood said that a Hinds County judge does, indeed, have the authority to block any state law from taking effect if the judge finds the law to be unconstitutional. Lawsuits challenging state laws are filed in Hinds County because the seat of state government, Jackson, is in Hinds County.
However, Hood said while a Hinds County judge's ruling is fully applicable in Hinds County, it's up to law enforcement officers in the other 81 counties to decide how they'll react to it.
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 scheduled to become law July 1. But, after a lawsuit was filed to challenge the measure, Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd blocked it from becoming law, saying it is "without question, unconstitutionally vague."
The attorney general's office is defending the open-carry measure, and Hood said Wednesday that he will file an appeal early next week, asking the state Supreme Court to overturn Kidd's ruling. Hood said he expects justices to take several weeks to consider an appeal, and he believes they'll let the measure become law.
What are police officers and sheriffs to do until then?
"I think law enforcement officers that went out and charged someone with carrying a concealed weapon if they had it ... in a holster, they'd be wasting their time and the court's time," Hood said.
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 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.
In declaring the law unconstitutional this past Friday, Kidd wrote: "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. Private businesses, such as restaurants and convenience stores, also can post signs saying weapons are not allowed.