In relatively short order since Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2012, Mississippi’s gun laws have changed from fairly restrictive to among the most permissive in the country.

On April 15, Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a measure making Mississippi one of 11 states that allows “constitutional carry,” or carrying a concealed firearm without a state-issued concealed carry permit. However, there are still caveats as to how and where someone can carry a concealed gun without a permit.

These new gun laws have brought some confusion among gun-owning residents and even law enforcement about what the new laws allow or don’t allow. In some cases, laws appear to conflict or leave room for interpretation. Many of the state’s newer gun laws have not been thoroughly tested by the courts.

Below this section is an explainer of the laws and regulations and answers to some frequent questions about carrying firearms with or without a permit in Mississippi.

State House Judiciary Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, has sponsored most of the new legislation and shepherded it to passage in the Legislature. Veteran law enforcement officer, firearms trainer and author Rick Ward has helped author and lobby for the more permissive gun legislation over many years.

An explanation of Mississippi’s gun laws and regulations and answers to some frequent questions according to state law, Gipson, Ward and opinions from Attorney General Jim Hood’s office:

What are some recent changes in gun law in Mississippi?

2011: The Legislature created the “enhanced carry” permit providing broad carry rights. To receive this endorsement on one’s concealed carry permit (issued by the Department of Public Safety), a person must complete an eight-hour class conducted by a nationally certified firearms trainer. This enhanced permit allows the person to carry into places otherwise prohibited by law (more below).

2013: A law clarified that “open carry” of a firearm, at least partially visible outside of clothing, is allowed in public by the Mississippi Constitution. Gipson and others say the state constitution allows the Legislature to regulate only concealed carry of a weapon. The AG has opined that local governments can place some restrictions on open carry in sensitive locations and that it is prohibited on school property. The law has not been extensively tested in courts.

2014: A law passed that allows people to challenge local governments that adopt firearms regulations more restrictive than state laws. Government boards can declare some places — generally those not open to the general public — as sensitive areas and ban firearms there. But the law passed in 2014 also allows a process for people to appeal such decisions and to require specific signage.

2015: The governor signed what’s been called “purse carry” into law. This allows Mississippians to carry guns concealed in a purse, brief case, satchel or bag without a permit, subject to places restricted (below).

2016: The bill Gov. Bryant signed into law last month makes Mississippi one of 11 states that allows “constitutional carry” of a firearm concealed without a state permit. The new law says the gun must be in a holster or sheath, not just in a pocket or waistband.

Types of carry

Open: According to the state constitution and a 2013 law clarifying the issue, Mississippians over the age of 18 (federal law requires people be 21 for purchase) can carry a firearm in a holster, sheath or scabbard that is at least partially visible above clothing anywhere where guns are not otherwise prohibited. The attorney general has opined that some restrictions that apply to concealed carry (see below) also apply to open carry — such as carrying on school property — while others say the state constitution prohibits the Legislature or local governments from restricting open carry. Private property owners can prohibit open carry as described below for concealed carry.

Concealed without permit: A law effective April 15 allows Mississippians, without a permit, to carry concealed firearms — “hidden or obscured from common observation” — as long as they are in a holster or sheath. A previous law allows such permit-less concealed carry in a purse, satchel, briefcase or bag. However, one cannot carry a gun without a permit into:

  •  A police, sheriff’s or highway patrol station.
  • A school — elementary, secondary, community college or university — except for an authorized firearm-related activity.
  • A detention facility, prison or jail.
  • A courthouse or courtroom.
  • A polling place for elections.
  • A meeting place of a governing body, including the Legislature and legislative committee meetings.
  • A school, college or professional athletic event not related to firearms.
  • Bars, or the bar areas of restaurants or any area of an establishment primarily devoted to dispensing alcoholic beverages..
  • An airport terminal, except properly baggage guns to be checked for lawful transporting on an aircraft.
  • A church or place of worship — except as provided in a new law for a church’s authorized armed security team.
  • Any place where carrying a firearm is prohibited by federal law (such as a federal courthouse or post office).
  • A private business or property that properly posts (see details below) notice that firearms are banned.
  •  Any area that has been declared a “place of nuisance” because of illegal activity.

Concealed carry with standard permit: Someone with a standard state concealed carry permit — who undergoes a background check and fingerprinting — is still prohibited from carrying in the areas listed above for permit-less carry, such as courtrooms, polling places, bars and schools. So why get this permit? Gipson noted more than 30 other states allow some form of “reciprocity” concealed carry for Mississippians with a permit and those with a permit are exempt from having another background check when they purchase a gun.

Concealed carry with “enhanced” permit: Those who undergo eight hours of certified training can receive an endorsement on their concealed carry permit that allows them to carry in most places otherwise restricted. But an enhanced permit holder still cannot carry in:

  • An area declared a place of nuisance.
  • A police, sheriff or Highway Patrol station.
  • A detention facility, prison or jail.
  • Any place where carrying a firearm is prohibited by federal law (such as a federal courthouse or post office).
  • A private business or property that properly posts (see below) notice that firearms are banned. An enhanced permit holder could face trespassing charges, but not a violation of concealed carry law.
  • A courtroom while court is in session.
  • While one section of state law says an enhanced permit holder can carry on school, community college or university property, another says it’s illegal. An AG’s opinion from 2012 says campus carry is allowed for enhanced permit holders.
  • State law says someone not attending or working for a school can possess a firearm in their vehicle, but federal law would require a state-issued permit for it. Mississippi’s IHL recently adopted a policy expressly permitting enhanced permit holders to carry on campus, subject to some exceptions still being worked out.

Private property rights

While Mississippi’s gun laws have become more permissive, private property owners still have the right to ban firearms on their premises by posting signs. Someone carrying a gun onto such private property could face trespassing charges or a firearms charge if they are otherwise violating a gun-carry law. To ban firearms, a property owner must place written notice, clearly readable at a distance of not less than 10 feet, that says “carrying of a pistol or revolver is prohibited.”

Local government authority

Local governments in Mississippi are pre-empted by state law and generally prohibited from adopting ordinances that restrict gun carry rights although they can adopt ordinances regulating carry at:

  • A public park or public meeting of a county, city or other governmental body.
  • A political rally, parade or official political meeting.
  • A non-firearm related school, college or professional athletic event.
  • Sensitive areas of government operations where the public is not generally allowed.

Signs prohibiting firearms at such places by local ordinance must also indicate that the prohibition does not apply to enhanced permit holders or that the location is one (listed above) where all license holders are prohibited from carrying.

Ward said there’s been misinformation about Mississippi’s new laws — some, he said he believes, is intentional — but they are not really confusing. He said he still recommends those who want to carry get the enhanced permit.

“The bottom line is, with this new (constitutional carry) law, you can carry a gun anywhere you could have carried with the regular permit,” Ward said. “The problem is, reciprocity with other states is based on permits, and you can’t go in a store and buy a gun without all the paperwork. Then, without a permit or even with the regular one, there’s so many restricted places, it’s not worth having.”

Gipson said he expects lawmakers will have to make technical changes and tweak gun laws, but as far as establishing state gun rights, “I feel confident we’ve done about all we can do.”

“In about the last four years we’ve gone from being a highly regulated state to a very constitutionally based, pro-Second Amendment state with respect to our laws,” Gipson said. “I have no idea what we’re going to see from the federal level, but I’m satisfied where we are with the state at this point.”

Contact Geoff Pender at 601-961-7266 or [email protected]. Follow @GeoffPender on Twitter.

Image labeled under “free-use” courtesy of Wikipedia.