Despite claims, HB 1083 changes gun policies
Full disclosure: I’m a public university employee and a gun owner.
Mississippi House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, has authored legislation known as House Bill 1083 that he says is designed to allow Mississippians with enhanced concealed carry gun permits a streamlined process to legally challenge the policies of public entities that limit firearms. That’s true.
Gipson said that his legislation would assure that enhanced carry permit holders be able to possess and carry their weapons wherever they see fit — and that HB 1083 does not change existing laws regarding gun rights on university campuses. From my viewpoint, that’s not true and here’s why.
HB 1083 would turbocharge litigation against universities that continue — as they have since a 2011 Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion — to draw distinctions between public spaces where firearms possession is allowed and non-public spaces where firearms possession is not allowed.
The bill would usurp the constitutional authority of the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning and the university president they hire to be responsible for the safety of their students, faculty, staff and visitors to the campuses through policies designed to maximize safety.
With all due respect to Chairman Gipson, HB 1083 would substantially change the existing university policies regarding how gun rights are balanced with student, faculty and staff safety. The Mississippi Legislature has for years known about glaring contradictions in state law regarding guns on school and university property and for whatever reason chose to allow those contradictions to continue.
That fact was borne out last week when a House member ignored the Joint Rules of the Senate and the House and took a firearm to the well of the House despite Rule 37’s admonition against anyone carrying a firearm into the state Capitol. It is an open secret that while Capitol visitors are run through metal detectors, several members regularly are armed in spite of the Legislature’s own rules.
Outside the Capitol, the rules are also contradictory. HB 1083 doesn’t bring clarity to those contradictions, it simply adds to the cacophony. One section of the Mississippi Code broadly prohibits possession of firearms on any educational property, specifically including universities. A separate section of state law authorizes enhanced concealed carry gun permits.
Yet the Mississippi Constitution gives the State College Board the authority to manage and control the state’s eight public universities and to supervise individual university buildings and grounds and to prescribe rules and regulations governing activities on those buildings and grounds.
Based on that hodgepodge of contradictory statutes, code sections, and constitutional authority, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office issued an official opinion which held that state universities may restrict the general public, including those with or without guns or gun permits, from entering non-public areas and buildings on their campuses.
That AG’s opinion led to the current status quo at Mississippi universities — one in which those universities have adopted policies that respect the rights of enhanced carry permit holders in public spaces, but in which the universities restrict firearms in areas they declare non-public as they have the constitutional authority to do.
The public spaces have been outdoor areas, unions, dining facilities, green spaces and commons, book stores, chapels, and tailgating spaces. The non-public spaces have primarily been athletic venues, academic buildings, residence halls, faculty and staff offices, and medical or childcare facilities.
In addition to turbocharging litigation against universities regarding the non-public spaces, the unintended consequence is that HB 1083 will likewise turbocharge litigation against the universities from individuals who don’t want weapons in their dorm rooms, classrooms, offices or other spaces now deemed non-public under the AG’s opinion.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.