As the author of House Bill 2, sometimes referred to as the “open carry law” or the “new gun law,” it has been fascinating to see the level of misinformation on this bill, even by some legislators who voted for it twice. Actually, there is nothing really “new” about this law except for the broad awareness it has brought to our citizens’ Constitutional rights to keep and bear arms for self-protection.
Myth: House Bill 2 created a right to “open carry.” Fact: The Constitution protects your right to carry a firearm to defend yourself.
It all started with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which preserves every citizen’s “right to keep and bear arms.” In a 2008 landmark decision on the subject, the Supreme Court found that these words "guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” At the same time, the Supreme Court stated that many long-existing federal restrictions on firearms possession were consistent with the Second Amendment, including restriction of possession by felons, the mentally ill, persons convicted of domestic violence, and drug addicts.
Then there is a lesser-known provision of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 which provides that “The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property . . . shall not be called in question, but the legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.” In other words, under Mississippi’s Constitution adopted by the people of our State, the only restriction the legislature may impose on the right to defend yourself is to regulate “concealed weapons.” And that is exactly what the Legislature did in adopting House Bill 2.
For a long time in Mississippi law, there has been a process for a citizen to obtain a “concealed carry” permit, which is a license to carry a hidden firearm. Any law abiding citizen may apply with the Department of Public Safety for a permit to carry a concealed firearm and if qualified to possess a firearm, have the permit issued to them with a photo ID. There is also the option to obtain an “enhanced” concealed carry permit which requires taking an eight-hour course on handling a firearm, and enables the holder to carry even in most posted or prohibited locations. It’s a good idea to have a concealed carry permit.
But the term “concealed” has never been defined in the concealed carry law. The lack of a definition allowed individual law enforcement and various courts to interpret what “concealed” means, and some argued that permit holders could be arrested for letting any part of the weapon show. One judge even had the opinion that a firearm carried around the neck by a string was “concealed” because the string hid part of the weapon from view.
For the first time since the Constitution was adopted, the Legislature in enacting House Bill 2 gave a definition to the word “concealed” to mean “hidden or obscured from common observation,” a phrase most people can understand. The Legislature also gave examples of what is not to be considered concealed, such as carrying a firearm in a holster that can be seen. This is perfectly consistent with our Constitutional rights to carry to protect one’s “person” as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Officials who filed a Hinds County lawsuit don’t believe law-abiding Mississippians can handle their constitutional right to bear arms. But if 28 other states have managed to survive open carry without a permit or gun registration, I’ll stand with the framers of our Constitution and trust that Mississippians can and will. After all, we’ve had this right since our Constitution was adopted.
Posted July 15, 2013 - 5:15 pm