On March 4, 2013, Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed Mississippi House Bill 2 into law. Among other things, this legislation clarified Mississippi law regarding the open carrying of firearms. Specifically, it limited the state's prohibition on the unlicensed carrying of handguns and certain other weapons to situations in which the item is "concealed on or about one's person …." It also defined "concealed" to mean "hidden or obscured from common observation" and further explained that a "loaded or unloaded pistol carried upon the person in a … holster that is wholly or partially visible" does not fall within the prohibition on carrying concealed weapons. The bill contained additional amendments that clearly established that the open carrying of a holstered handgun is not, in itself, a violation of law.
As we reported in July, the passage of HB 2 led to a frenzied and confused legal effort by a coalition of anti-gun officials to convince the courts to prevent the law from taking effect. Their main complaint was that HB 2 was unconstitutionally vague.
In rulings that surely will not burnish the judiciary's reputation for legal precision, a Hinds County circuit judge issued injunctions preventing the law from taking effect. The state appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Your NRA participated in these proceedings with a "friend of the court" brief that explained how existing laws that were left undisturbed by HB 2 still allowed authorities to address the public safety concerns raised by the lower court concerning dangerous persons and misuse of weapons.
The lower court veered back and forth between two contradictory notions of vagueness. One asserted that the meaning of the law was difficult to decipher from its text. This was not an easy argument to make, since HB 2 actually provided a definition for the key term "concealed," which had previously been undefined. The other argument was essentially that the law had to be vague because the obvious meaning of the text led to public policy that did not make sense to the court. Yet as the State of Mississippi argued to the State Supreme Court, "The narrow statutory amendments in House Bill 2 are not vague merely because the legislature has chosen not to adopt regulations thought by the Plaintiffs to be beneficial." The NRA also noted that "[w]hile the federal and state rights to arms … do not necessarily preclude every conceivable type of regulation on open carry, they certainly do not affirmatively require the state to regulate open carry in a specific manner to the liking of the [Plaintiffs]…."
Fortunately, reason has prevailed at the Mississippi Supreme Court. In a terse three-page order issued on August 29, 2013, the court not only lifted the order preventing the law from going into effect, but ruled that "the Circuit Judge erred as a matter of law when he found House Bill 2 to be vague and, therefore, unconstitutional" and in his finding that "'a reasonable person reading the bill could not discern what the law allows and what it prohibits.'"
House Bill 2 is now the law of the land in Mississippi, and Mississippi joins the dozens of other states that recognize open carry as a lawful means of exercising the right to bear arms. The state Attorney General's Office deserves thanks and recognition for its able and vigorous defense of HB 2 and the rights of Mississippians.