New Gun Law Reflects Constitutional Principle
By Rep. Andy Gipson

As a lawyer/lawmaker, I respect the rule of law in our nation, and I took an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. The law is designed to encourage good conduct and deter wrongful conduct. It’s not intended to criminalize law-abiding citizens simply exercising their constitutional rights.

Unfortunately, laws can be interpreted in ways that are contrary to these principles. Under prior interpretations of Mississippi’s firearms laws, law-abiding people – even “concealed carry” permit holders– could be charged for breaking the law simply by carrying a lawful pistol or revolver in a holster.

House Bill 2 becomes effective July 1, 2013 and serves as a correction to these past interpretations. Citizens should not fear being prosecuted for simply exercising the basic right “to keep and bear arms.” This bill does not create any new rights, but it does strongly reinforce what the Constitution already says.

By way of background, it is important to note Section 12 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, which is our State’s companion to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment:

“The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.”

The only constitutional authority granted to the Legislature is with respect to carrying “concealed” weapons. State law requires a “concealed carry” permit (or an “enhanced concealed carry” permit for certain prohibited locations). However, a 2012 AG interpretation said that even with a concealed carry permit it was illegal to allow any part of a firearm (such as a handle) to be visible.

House Bill 2 enacts a common-sense definition of what the term concealed means: “. . . “concealed” means hidden or obscured from common observation . . .” Citizens with a concealed carry permit can carry in this manner.

But citizens have always had the constitutional right to openly carry (unconcealed) with or without a permit. Carrying a firearm commonly visible to others does not count as “concealed.” House Bill 2 expressly reaffirms what the Constitution says:

“The licensing requirements of this section do not apply to the carrying [of a] weapon that is not concealed . . .”

A lawful person doesn’t need a permit to carry in a manner that is “not concealed” because the Constitution itself grants that fundamental right. For those who are neither “concealed carry” nor “enhanced carry” permit holders, House Bill 2 simply preserves the already-existing constitutional right “to keep and bear arms.” A citizen should not be considered a criminal for exercising the right to openly carry in defense of one’s “home, person, or property.”

To be clear, House Bill 2 made no changes to the rights of property owners to manage their property as they see fit. It doesn’t give a person a right to go anywhere and do anything they want with a firearm in open view. Felons, drug addicts and the mentally ill are not meant to have a gun much less be seen carrying one. Finally, House Bill 2 preserves the prohibition against carrying a firearm in a threatening manner.

For the most part, I expect citizens will want to obtain a permit (recognized in most states) and carry “concealed” so as to avoid attention. However, the “right to keep and bear arms in defense of [your] home, person, or property” should not be called into question. That is, after all, what the Constitution says. And the last time I checked, it’s still in effect.

Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) serves as Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee.