PERRY/Hood's unconcealed guns
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 1:00 AM
Governing Magazine's recent profile of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, "The Last Democrat in Dixie," describes the independent appeal of Hood in a Republican dominated state.
The magazine quotes House Democratic Minority Leader Bobby Moak saying Hood "takes the right stance on God and guns."
"As for guns," the profile reports, "Hood earned a 'B' on gun rights from the National Rifle Association in 2011. He comes to work every day armed with a 9mm handgun, and at home he keeps a stock of shotguns and rifles in a vault, including an antique bolt-action rifle that is the exact model his grandfather once owned. He hunts deer or birds almost every weekend in December and January."
Hood increases his pro-gun credentials this week with an aggressive response to plaintiffs seeking to block legislation which clarifies the term "concealed" in Mississippi statute. HB2, sponsored by Representative Andy Gipson (R-77), says, "'concealed' means hidden or obscured from common observation...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...."
The legislation does not create the right to carry an unconcealed weapon. That right is enshrined in the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 and has been a component of Mississippi's Constitution since 1817: "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 legislation was to be effective Monday, July 1, but plaintiffs including Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis and state Senator John Horhn (D-26) (who voted for the legislation) filed suit in front of Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd at 4:30pm on the Friday before and Kidd issued a restraining order blocking the law. Kidd, appointed to the bench in 2001 by Governor Ronnie Musgrove, found the law "is indeed vague, it is not clear, it is ambiguous" and it could harm the general public.
Hood filed an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court claiming the action of Judge Kidd violated constitutional separation of powers "by usurping the authority of the legislature" and "infringes on the citizens' right to bear arms" under the Mississippi and U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs argue in their brief that this action by the Court to halt the Mississippi law is necessary because, well, we're not smart enough to understand it and law enforcement isn't trained enough to know better.
They argue, "Since it may be difficult for the average citizen to understand the application of H.B. 2, the public interest is indeed served by the issuance of the Temporary Restraining Order. The delay of the law's effective date prevents public chaos what would be caused by individuals openly carrying weapons in spaces once thought to be prohibited, especially when coupled with law enforcement's lack of guidance on how to enforce the legislation."
I guess one man's chaos is another man's freedom.
In actuality, law enforcement has received guidance from an Attorney General's Opinion issued last month by Hood to Tate County Sheriff Brad Lance. Lance asked whether an individual can carry a firearm without a permit if it is visible. Hood said they could as long as the weapon was not concealed and that includes long guns.
Hood noted a statute that prohibits firearms on educational properties and explained a private property owner can exercise his property rights and prohibit others from carrying guns on that property. Also, public officials in authority over public property, like a sheriff at a courthouse, may under state law regulate the carrying of weapons on that property, but he notes the possibility that those regulations could be determined unconstitutional under federal protections.
Lance asked if an officer could approach and question someone openly carrying a firearm. Hood said certainly an officer can ask, but they cannot require an answer. He cited a U.S. Supreme Court, "law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, by asking him if he is willing to answer some questions...The person approached, however, need not answer any question put to him; indeed, he may decline to listen to the questions at all and may go on his way." Hood's opinion clarified, "the mere fact that a person is openly carrying a weapon, without anything more, does not give the officer grounds to detain that person, or to require him to submit to questioning."
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour commonly said, "good policy makes good politics." For Hood, protecting gun rights in Mississippi is both, and demonstrates why he is the "last Democrat in Dixie."
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.