Mississippi Open Gun Carry Law Causing Confusion

Contentious Gun Law Causing Confusion

MERIDIAN -- On July 1, a new law giving Mississippi residents the right to openly carry firearms without the need of a gun permit will go into effect.

Next week, during a two-hour block of instruction and education on the Open Carry Law, area law enforcement officers will get guidance on how the new law will impact their jobs and how to deal with citizens walking around with firearms at their side.

"This new law will result in quite a few calls from the general public as they notice more guns being carried out in the open," said Ward Calhoun, chief deputy of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department. "But for the purpose of this session, it is all about the effect the law will have on us as law enforcement personnel."

The session to be held Wednesday, June 26, is sponsored in part by the LCSD, the Meridian Community College Police Department, and the Mississippi Attorney General's Office. The session will be led by members of the state AG's Office, who will explain the scope of the law.

The session will be held from 8-10 a.m. at MCC's Webb Hall in the Delaney Room.

Calhoun said there is no cost for law enforcement personnel to attend.

"Just show up," Cahoun said. "No registration and no cost, so if any agency can spare the men to come and learn more about this law the better."

The training session is not open to the general public.

The state AG's Office has been fielding questions from various law enforcement agencies across the state since the law was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant earlier this spring.

Confusion over Mississippi's concealed weapons carry laws prompted legislators to address the issue. The law was unclear about whether or not a person carrying a concealed weapon was in violation of the law if the weapon was accidentally exposed to view. House Bill 2 clarifies the issue, stating a gun can be partially exposed if it is in a proper holster, and can be carried openly without a permit.

Some have argued that Mississippi was already an open carry gun state and that the law is causing confusion.

"The legislators created this animal and now they don't know what to do with it," Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp said. "The law has been on the books since 1890 but the people have pretty much ignored it for so many years. Now, the law has been out there in the news for a long time and I'm sure when July 1 rolls around we will see somebody walking around with a .45 strapped to their side."

Kemp said he would like to attend the training session next week. "I've got some questions I'd like to ask myself," Kemp says. "This law creates some potential problems for us as law enforcement officers and I'd like to get the AG's office opinion on some of the things we might run into."

Officers with the Meridian Police Department have already been receiving some new instruction on the law, said James Sharpe, acting chief of the MPD.

"We will have officers at the session," Sharpe says. "But we have been providing our officers with training at the station. Of course it will be good to have someone from the AG's Office to speak to directly."

There are limits to where guns can be carried.

Calhoun said guns are prohibited at schools, community colleges and universities. Private property owners can also prohibit people from bringing guns onto their property.

Sheriff's can also prohibit guns from being brought into courthouses and the only time guns are allowed on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, such as at Okatibbee Lake, is during hunting season.

Other questions have arisen, such as if an officer can question someone just because they are openly carrying a firearm.

"Basically, and I say that because I'm sure there will arise a specific situation in which this view will be challenged, an officer can't stop you and question you just because he sees you wearing a gun," Calhoun said. "He has to have probable cause to ask you questions and obtain other information."

DeKalb Police Department Chief Steven Jackson says he believes once the law goes into effect, there will be a period of about six to eight months where more people will be seen walking around with a visible sidearm. But after that he thinks the fervor will die down.

"There will always be that gun enthusiast who will want to flaunt their newly found freedom and that is fine as long as they do it in the right manner," Jackson said. "But I don't really foresee any long term problems."

Jackson said intends to attend the meeting next week. He wishes more guidance had been provided to officers up front.

"Continued training will be vital for us as officers but I am a little disappointed the state and the governor have not done more in terms of educating the general public about the law," Jackson said. "I think that would be good in terms of preparing the citizens of our state with the knowledge of the law and what they can expect."

It is just as important that residents educate themselves on the use of firearms, Jackson said.

"One of our main concerns with a citizen carrying a firearm, no matter under which law it is, that they are trained not only in the operation and functions of the firearm but when that person can deploy that firearm," Calhoun said. "This is a huge responsibility for someone and they had better be clear on these and many other aspects of carrying a firearm otherwise it could lead to much more serious matters."

Jackson believes that some of the questions over the open carry law will have to be worked out in court.

"Judges will have to give their judgements based on their interpretation of the law and that can even lead to more confusion," Jackson said. "There will be a learning curve for everyone." ___

(c)2013 The Meridian Star (Meridian, Miss.)

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