Cities weigh in on gun ordinances

Published 7:00 pm Friday, July 12, 2013

    When House Bill 2, allowing adults to openly carry a firearm in public areas, passed in the Mississippi legislature earlier this year, Brookhaven’s new board of alderman was quick to respond voting unanimously in their first meeting on July 2 to install a city ordinance banning such activity on all municipal property.

     In neighboring communities the response has been varied. Nonetheless, officials are paying close attention to Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd’s ruling, which is scheduled to be handed down today, on whether he will extend the injunction he placed June 28 blocking HB 2 from taking place.

     If Kidd further blocks the legislation, appeals could be made bringing the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

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     In Lawrence County, Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols said in an interview Wednesday that the city board unanimously passed ordinances at their meeting July 1 banning firearms on all municipal property.  

     “We all believe in the people’s right to bear arms, but we also believe in the protection of our employees,” he said.

     Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames has been an outspoken proponent of the open-carry legislation, speaking out against Kidd’s injunction. Although Thames said in an interview Tuesday that county and city ordinances limiting firearms are “understandable” and “could be expected.”

     “Our board of supervisors is working on an ordinance for all county property,” he said. “We will have to honor those exceptions but as far as any other areas such as in the streets we are going to allow [firearms.]”

     In Franklin County, Meadville Mayor Lane Reed said the city has not taken any action on the matter because they do not view the new legislation as a significant change from what was already in place.

     “We didn’t see that it was a departure from previous law set forth in the Mississippi Constitution,” Reed said Thursday. “We have not felt the need to do anything different because we just didn’t see that it was a substantial change.”

     “But we will be vigilant in the protection of our employees and those that appear in our city buildings,” he continued.

     Reed also said Meadville officials are monitoring the battle in Jackson over Kidd’s injunction.

     “We are going to carefully watch what happens with Judge Kidd,” he said.

     In Wesson, Mayor Alton Shaw said he has mixed feelings on the issue. Wesson has yet to pass any ordinance banning firearms, but Shaw said the idea has been discussed.

     “We have a sample ordinance in place that we are looking over,” Shaw said. “We may take action on it at the next board meeting.”

     “I understand the need to restrict certain areas but also understand you have a constitutional right,” he continued. “I want to weigh both options but most likely an ordinance will take place inside buildings but not in open areas.”

     Both Vicksburg and McComb have passed similar ordinances banning firearms on city property and Natchez is currently mulling the idea while their city attorney is reviewing state laws and seeking advice from the attorney general’s office. 

      Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood released an opinion on the matter June 13 stating that property and business owners can ban firearms on their property. The opinion has been interpreted to apply to local governments, authorities over public buildings and courthouses. Although the constitutionality of government authority over public property is to be judged on a case-by-case analysis, the opinion stated.

     In a previous interview, attorney and District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak expressed his opinion on the matter at hand.

     “It’s very prudent for cities and counties to limit bringing weapons in to public areas,” Moak said. “I don’t see how they are any different from private land owners.”

     “Those private rights also extend to forms of government for the public good,” he continued.