You Asked: Police say guns are legal, but should be locked up

Published 10:10 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

Q: What is legal regarding gun ownership and carrying in Brookhaven?

A: Mississippians do not need a permit or license to possess or carry firearms on private or public property, according to Circuit Court Clerk Dustin Bairfield, a gun law expert.

Gun owners must be 18 or older, but Mississippians cannot purchase a handgun unless they are at least 21 or are in full-time military service.

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Prior to being elected circuit clerk, Bairfield spent 21 years in law enforcement, and now offers classes for enhanced gun permits.

Bairfield said permits allow residents to carry concealed firearms, including on private property — though property owners can prohibit weapons. Those carrying weapons onto private property against the owners wishes can be charged with trespassing.

It’s common for businesses, schools and other organizations to prohibit guns because of concerns over liability.

“They don’t want the liability of you making a three-second wrong decision,” Bairfield said.

A license to carry the weapons does not constitute a license to use them. Bairfield said Mississippians are only legally justified in using lethal force if they have an immediate and imminent fear for their own life.

“You cannot play hero in this thing,” Bairfield said. “This is for your life.”

Instead, Bairfield said the best thing for people to do in the event of a crime is to be the best witness they an be.

Those who want an enhanced gun permit must receive at least eight hours of special training on the legal requirements, the fundamentals of shooting and gun safety. They also need to complete a background check with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

According to Mississippi code, individuals with a permit are still prohibited from carrying weapons into courtrooms, a police, sheriff or highway patrol station, a detention facility, prison or jail or a place of nuisance. The latter is defined in the code as any place where prostitution is conducted or controlled substances are unlawfully used, possessed sold or delivered.

Cities and counties cannot pass ordinances restricting gun possession on public property, with the exception of schools and colleges, parks, athletic events, parades, or political rallies or meetings.

Cities and counties can, however, pass laws restricting discharging firearms.

Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell believes in the right to own guns, but he’s concerned with the frequency in which guns are stolen.

“The only problem I have with guns, they’re in the wrong people’s hands,” Bell said. “Right now, we have too many guns in young, careless people’s hands”

Bell said it’s common for guns to be stolen from vehicles and homes.

“That’s why we’re having so many young people killed (in the nation),” he said.

The Brookhaven Police Department often publishes reports of stolen firearms returned to their owners on its public Facebook page. A recent post shows the the weapons stolen in Brookhaven can travel far from home. On Oct. 3, the BPD recovered a gun in  Chicago that was stolen in Brookhaven.

In order to prevent firearms from being stolen, Bell advised guns should be kept under lock and key when at home, and they shouldn’t be left unattended in vehicles.

“Once they bring them in the house, they need to put them in a vault,” Bell said. “Not only to keep people from stealing them, but to keep kids from getting to them.”