BY JEFF CLARK
Judge Jim Kitchens
With House Bill 2, a controversial state gun law, taking effect July 1, some local elected officials are attempting to to inform citizens of Lowndes County about the new law, and they are hoping to eliminate confusion through conversation.
The law allows Mississippi residents to carry guns in public places without a permit. A permit is still required to carry a concealed weapon.
The implementation of the new law was a hot topic of conversation during a District 1 Town Hall meeting Tuesday at the Steens Community Center. Sixteenth District Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens and Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge participated in the discussion about HB-2 at the suggestion of District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders.
According to Kitchens, the new law is simply an additional paragraph to the state’s existing law.
“I brought a copy of the existing law,” Kitchens said. “All that’s in place is that they added one paragraph. I’m going to read that paragraph. ‘For the purposes of this section, “concealed” means hidden or obscured from common observation and shall not include any weapon listed in subsection (1) of this section, including, but not limited to, a loaded or unloaded pistol carried upon the person in a sheath, belt holster or shoulder holster that is wholly or partially visible, or carried upon the person in a scabbard or case for carrying the weapon that is wholly or partially visible.’ Now, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to normal folks, I guess. What it means is that you’ve always had to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. What this provision does is it makes it clear you can carry a weapon. If you want to put your .45 on your hip in your holster and go to town, you can do that. What it makes clear is that if a law-abiding citizen wants to carry a gun in holster where it’s visible, they can do it. I’m not suggesting everyone go out and strap a hogleg to your hip, but you can do so.”
Kitchens said business owners have the right to not allow guns in their place of business, and guns are not allowed in courthouses.
“Can you bring it into the courthouse — no,” Kitchens said. “As you know, that’s where I work. I’m not even worried about it on the criminal end, it’s the domestic cases, the child custody cases that concern me.”
Arledge said he expects the law to be revisited in the future.
“I don’t think this is over,” Arledge said. “I think they will look at this bill again. I think it will be harder on law enforcement officials than the citizens. If we see someone with a gun strapped on them walking around downtown, we can question them about the guns. But if they tell us they don’t want to talk about it and that they have the right to carry a gun, we have to back off and let them go on about their business. In all of the years I’ve worked in law enforcement, I could probably count on my hands the number of people I’ve arrested for carrying a gun.”
When asked if he thought the new law will affect death rates, Arledge said it could happen.
“It’s a good possibility,” Arledge said. “People could have access to a gun in the heat of the moment when they are angry about something.”
Kitchens, however, said he doesn’t think it will increase deaths by firearms in the county.
“The law that allows us to carry guns in our cars has existed for years,” Kitchens said. “I don’t think it will have any effect on the murder cases. The guys I’m dealing with, they aren’t going to want you to know they have some guns to begin with.”
On Wednesday, City of Columbus Attorney Jeff Turnage said the city may have to alter its current gun ordinance.
“The city has had a gun ordinance in place for years,” Turnage said. “But it probably needs to be revised after a recent AG’s opinion on HB-2.”
The city’s gun ordinance is as follows: “Firearm. ‘Firearm’ means any device, by whatever name known, which is designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosion, expansion of gas, or escape of gas; including, but not limited to, a handgun, pistol, airgun, revolver, rifle, or shotgun. (b) Prohibition. No individual within the city may possess a firearm or dangerous weapon at: (1) A public park or at a public meeting of a county, municipality, or other governmental body; (2) A non-firearm-related political rally, parade, or public meeting; (3) A non-firearm-related school, college, or professional event, including, but not limited to, an athletic event, a concert, or other group assembly; (4) In or upon the premises of any financial institution; or (5) In or upon the premises of any establishment which permits on-premises consumption of beer, wine, liquor, or other alcoholic beverages. c) Exceptions; generally. The prohibition in section (b) hereinabove does not apply if the firearm was in or carried to and from an area designated for use in a lawful hunting, fishing, or other gun-related sporting event, or certified firearm training facility and the firearm is of the type commonly used in the activity. (d) Exceptions; peace officers, security guards, etc. The prohibition in section (b) hereinabove does not apply to peace officers, security guards, authorized employees, or authorized investigators. (e) Penalties. An individual violating the above prohibition shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.00.”
(Columbus City Code Sec. 20-64)