Decision to uphold open carry law results in controversy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In the state of Mississippi, it is now legal to walk around with a gun on your hip, without a concealed weapon permit. That's essentially what House Bill 2 says.

The controversial open carry law that was upheld by the supreme court in a unanimous decision Thursday, and went into effect immediately.

It was supposed to go into effect July 1st, but an injunction from a Hinds County Judge put that law on hold. Judge Winston Kidd called the law "unconstitutionally vague." But, the state Supreme Court overturned that injunction Thursday saying, the law is in line with the Mississippi Constitution.

While the decision has been made, it's still a very controversial subject.

"I've been shooting guns since I was seven," said 28-year-old Steven Kellum. "I've been shooting them my whole life."

So when Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the open carry law can take effect, it was music to Kellum and his friend, Jackson Mogollon's ears.

"I was very happy about it, actually. I just feel that it's something that should have been established already," said Mogollon.

Neither have concealed weapon permits. So, having the right to walk around with a gun on their hip is something they'll appreciate. But, they say, it's not something they'll abuse.

"A gun is a tool... just like a hammer's a tool," said Kellum. "All these things have a person behind them causing them to be used for evil."

That evil is something law enforcement is preparing themselves for.

"Certainly our officers will have to increase their situation awareness and be cognizant of the fact that there are more guns present," said Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania.

He said public safety is at the forefront of the minds of law enforcement officers and this new law will create a challenge for them.

"Those that decide to carry a weapon and wear a weapon need to understand that does not give them any special permission to take any law enforcement action," said Chief Papania.

But, he said, his force is ready.

"Time will really tell us whether or not this is a good thing," said Chief Papania.

Governor Phil Bryant feels this new law will help law enforcement in their effort to protect the public.

"Unfortunately, you're going to have to defend yourself on some occasion or defend the people around you," said Governor Bryant. "This gives you the right to do that."

An avid gun owner himself, he feels adamant that people who openly carry firearms do not pose a threat.

"A person that openly carries a weapon is there to let you know that he's trying to protect himself and you in the event and threat of violence."

That's something gun enthusiasts, like Kellum and Mogollon, couldn't agree with more.

The new law doesn't allow guns to be carried everywhere. It's still illegal to carry a firearm at a school and many cities and counties have passed laws that ban guns on city or county property. Many businesses have also posted signs banning firearms.

State lawmakers opposed to House Bill 2 say they intend to push for legislation to impose more restrictions on the new open carry law.

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