FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS ARE WORTH DEFENDING

On Tuesday, September 10, 2013 two Colorado State Senators were removed from office by the voters of that State in an unprecedented recall election. The reason? These two legislators supported strict Colorado gun control measures including universal background checks and limitations on the rounds of ammunition a firearm can hold. Despite millions of dollars poured into Colorado by national anti-gun organizations including “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” the people of Colorado sent the Senators home. It’s the most recent sign in a national debate that in America, people still believe our fundamental rights are worth defending.

And in Mississippi, events during the summer of 2013 have revealed the same anti-gun agenda being pushed so heavily by legislators and municipal officials in Colorado is alive and well, right here in our own backyard. House Bill 2, which had been signed into law months ago, was a simple clarification of the definition of a “concealed” weapon requiring a concealed carry permit. The bill was entirely consistent with Section 12 of the Mississippi Constitution which provides that only concealed weapons may be regulated by the Legislature. In fact, no permit has ever been required for “open carry” in Mississippi (or in twenty-seven other states). But over the years, some law enforcement officials and apparently some legislators had come under the impression that citizens had to have a state-issued “permit” to own or carry a gun openly. It’s a good case study of how our constitutional rights can be eroded with the passage of time if we are not on guard.

Notwithstanding each Mississippi citizen’s constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” in defense of his or her home, person, or property, these officials just couldn’t accept that Mississippians could handle House Bill 2. So at the last minute on June 28, 2013, several Mississippi Senators and Hinds County officials filed an “emergency” lawsuit to keep the bill from going into effect. Very promptly, a Hinds County Circuit Judge entered an Order blocking the law from going into effect to prevent “chaos.” (Chaos that, presumably, had been lurking under the surface of reality ever since our State Constitution was adopted in 1890.) The legal reason given for the Order was that House Bill 2 caused so much confusion, it was “unconstitutional.” For two months the Hinds County Order “blocked” House Bill 2 from taking effect, at least in Hinds County.

Interestingly, the Order seems to have had little effect on the number or nature of crimes committed in Hinds County. A review of news reports shows that during those two months, criminals still had weapons, still used weapons, still killed and robbed people and multiple businesses in Hinds County. On August 26, 2013 alone, groups of armed men brandished their weapons and robbed two separate businesses in Jackson. Obviously criminals were not deterred from carrying their weapons openly and/or concealed and using them to rob and pillage, or kill.

But law-abiding gun-owners who only want to protect themselves and their families were supposedly “blocked” from bearing arms for a two-month period. “Blocked” from exercising a fundamental right to protect their homes, persons, and property from the very criminals who have no regard for the law. How ironic.

The Attorney General, Governor Bryant and over 80 legislators including Speaker Philip Gunn and bill co-author Senator Giles Ward joined the legal fight and asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to set things straight. In an Order issued August 29, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Hinds County Circuit Court was wrong. House Bill 2 was neither confusing nor unconstitutional, and the new law defining “concealed” went into effect statewide immediately. The theoretical “chaos” predicted by the Hinds County plaintiffs has not become reality. Mississippians can handle their constitutional rights, after all, and I predict most will continue to carry “concealed.”

But the anti-gun agenda will not give up. The same legislators and officials who filed the lawsuit have now publicly pledged to introduce legislation next session requiring registration of all guns in Mississippi, to prohibit open carry of a firearm, and are pushing for counties and cities to adopt illegal and unconstitutional ordinances banning guns in all public places. Some law enforcement officials have convinced various locations to post “no guns” signs, all of which, to a criminal, must seem like open invitations to commit armed crimes.

Are our constitutional rights worth standing up for? I think most Mississippians agree with the folks in Colorado that the answer is a resounding “Yes.” We must stand against these illogical anti-gun attacks, at the same time we are vigilant against the gradual erosion of our constitutional rights through complacency. I intend to do so, and I urge you to do the same.

Rep. Andy Gipson
9/12/13