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No plans to change gun laws in state

Several area lawmakers — all gun owners — feel laws in place are adequate and don’t foresee any new weapon legislation in the works when they regroup in January for the next legislative session.

“I think everything is fine,” said Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven. “Folks just need to do their job. Somebody dropped the ball and families suffered for it.”

Mangold, a farmer representing Lincoln, Pike, Lawrence, Jefferson Davis and Franklin counties, is referencing the tragic shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sunday. The suspected shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after slaughtering 26 people including children and elderly churchgoers who had gathered to worship in the First Baptist Church. He opened fire with a Ruger AR rifle with a 30-round magazine, going from aisle to aisle as he shot parishioners.

He killed himself after being shot and chased down by a church neighbor.

Kelley was able to buy the rifle and three other weapons even though the former Air Force man was convicted in 2012 at a court-martial of choking his wife and cracking her son’s skull and was given a bad-conduct discharge in 2014.

Authorities said Monday that his gun purchases were allowed because there was no prohibited info in the federal background check system. The Air Force has confirmed it did not submit his criminal history to the FBI database that is used to conduct background checks for gun shops.

President Donald Trump, a longtime supporter of the gun lobby and the first president since Ronald Reagan to address the NRA, said the attack was the work of a mentally ill man.

He said that rather than use the shooting as justification to restrict access to firearms, it should be seen as a shining example of the benefits of gun ownership. If the neighbor who confronted the gunman hadn’t had a rifle, Trump said, “instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”

After hearing rapid gunfire at the church, Stephen Willeford, 55, immediately retrieved his rifle from his weapon safe and ran barefoot across the street where he exchanged gunfire with Kelley.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said changes aren’t necessary, but the law should be followed.

“The Air Force did not follow through in sending in his name,” said Currie, a home healthcare nurse. “The system worked if the Air Force had followed through.”

Gov. Phil Bryant in 2016 signed a law that allows Mississippians to carry concealed firearms without a permit as long as they are in a holster or sheath, but there are many places — including churches — where that is not allowed. However, there is a caveat that allows for a church’s authorized armed security team to be exempt.

“This particular instance is why we did that,” Currie said. “People are sitting ducks in church and you need to have somebody that the pastor or priest knows has a weapon. In Texas, the good guy with the gun stopped him from going somewhere and committing more murders.”

Rep. Bob Evans, D- Monticello, said he’s not expecting to see stricter gun legislation getting through the Legislature in Mississippi.

“The NRA controls the state, at least on the issues of any gun supervision,” he said.

Evans, an attorney, said the Texas church shooting illustrates the need for stricter laws concerning background checks and those seeking permits who have domestic violence history, criminal violence history or mental health history.

“We obviously don’t have that now or this guy wouldn’t have been able to get them,” he said. “Something has to be done about at least keeping people with mental illness histories from getting this stuff.”

Evans pointed to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members. He’d shot and killed his mother earlier that day. First responders found Lanza at the school dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“The NRA is very strong politically, in the state and in the US as a whole. I don’t think much is going to be done about it,” he said. “Twenty first- and second-graders slaughtered in Newtown. You can’t get more heinous than that. If nothing was done then, I don’t expect there’ll be anything done now.”

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, has not heard any mention of gun laws being a priority in the next legislative session.

Doty, who is also an attorney, said she is saddened by the shooting in Las Vegas at an outdoor concert in October that killed 59 people, and the shooting Sunday in Texas.

“The events of Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas are unbelievable tragedies by criminals whose minds we will never understand,” she said. “Making sure current laws and procedures are followed seems to be more important now than ever.”