Mississippi "Concealed Carry" Laws And The Courts-What To Make Of It

Posted by Leslie ShumakeFeb 15, 20220 Comments

     The Mississippi Concealed Carry and Weapons Permit law is Section 45-9-101 of the Mississippi Code, and, in my estimation, possibly the most amended law in the State.   The original law was amended in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020, 2021 and 2022.  The number of amendments alone serve to show the political and social hot potato of the subject matter.  The licensing and the restrictions on the carry of weapons (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) are debated throughout the United States, and run the gamut of "liberal" or "conservative" nature.  

     The Mississippi law is lengthy, to say the least, both in its scope and requirements.  For example, the granting of a concealed carry license contains around 15 conditions one must conform to in order to be granted the license.  The State Department of Public Safety is directed by the law to include a number of items on the application itself, such as driver's license number, social security number, etc.  The interesting thing about the application is that the law states that the Department can "only" ask the things enumerated in the statute.  In other words, the law strictly sets out not only what the Dept. of Public Safety must have on the application, but makes it clear that it can't ask for any other information about the applicant.  What the drafters of the law had in mind as to "other information", I have no idea. 

     I suppose an entire Blog could be devoted to the law and its language, but I wanted to concentrate this article on one clash between the proponents of "concealed carry- anytime, anywhere", and the obligation and duty of the Courts to keep the litigants, witnesses, judges and attorneys safe.   This is where Section 97-37-7 of the Mississippi Code comes into play, as it states in that statute that if a person has a concealed carry permit he or she "shall also be authorized to carry weapons in courthouses, except in courtrooms during a judicial proceeding."  It defines courtrooms as "the actual room in which a judicial proceeding occurs, including jury rooms, witness rooms, the judges chamber, the judges staff office, or similar room.

     This issue came to a head in the case of Ward vs Colom, 253 So. 3d 265, a case decided on June 7, 2018.

     The Facts Of The Case:  Three judges in one of the Chancery Court Districts issued an order prohibiting people with a valid concealed carry license from possessing a firearm in and around the courthouse buildings of that district.  (The five (5) counties in that district each have a courthouse.)  Mr. Ward filed a petition to dismiss the order, which was denied by the three Judges.  He then filed an "Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition" with the Mississippi Supreme Court, an unusual filing that asks the Supreme Court to intervene in the actions of a trial court during a case.

     The Ruling By The Supreme Court: The Supreme Court found the Orders to be Unconstitutional.  It also stated that the orders, in addition, defied the Mississippi statutes, and contravened Mississippi Case Law. The Supreme Court ordered the trial judges to vacate their order.

     The Supreme Court's Reasoning:   

     A.  Judges to not have the power to control security beyond the courtrooms themselves or regulate concealed weapons outside their courtrooms.   It was an exercise of a power that judges do not have. 

    B.   Judges must follow the law as written and passed by the legislature "unless it appears beyond all reasonable doubt to violate the constitution."  The chancellors in this case failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Section 97-3-7 is unconstitutional. 

    C.  The judges good intentions were not enough for the Supreme Court to allow the order to stand, even if the judges' concerns were well founded.   

    It is important to note that some members of the Supreme Court separately voiced their own reasoning in the ruling, even while agreeing with the outcome.  One Justice, in a lengthy twelve (12) page opinion, dissented from the decision and stated that the trial judges' order did not violate the constitution or our laws. 

   (Also of interest is a list of the attorneys filing briefs with the Supreme Court. In addition to the attorneys involved in the case, The Attorney General for the State of Mississippi and The National Rifle Association also filed briefs, along with the Chancellor James Person and a private attorney, Hon. Virgil Gillespie.) 

    I would guess that this highly inflammatory issue will not go away anytime soon.  I personally disagree with the Supreme Court decision in one respect;  I believe judges have a duty and obligation to keep everyone safe inside the court building while court is in session.  Anyone who has ever been in court while court is in session knows the building itself contains emotional litigants, attorneys, court clerk staff and others, all coming and going-essentially a beehive of activity. The law should be amended to include a prohibition inside the courthouse while court is in session for everyone's protection.   In any event, stay tuned for the next chapter in the concealed carry laws.