Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch is among those weighing in on the mayor of Jackson’s unilateral usurping of the Second Amendment rights of Jackson residents by banning the open carrying of firearms during the state’s emergency declaration. In a letter to Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, the AG says there’s nothing in state law that would allow a mayor to suspend the constitutional rights their constituents, even in an emergency.
“The Governor’s Proclamation does not authorize you to suspend the right to open carry, or any other statute or constitutional provision governing firearm possession. While the Order seeks to suspend the “open carry of firearms,” it does not identify any specific statute or statutes that it seeks to suspend. The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right, enshrined in the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Mississippi. In an effort to provide safeguards to the diminution of this right, the Mississippi Legislature has imposed strict limitations on a municipality’s authority to regulate “ the possession, carrying, transportation, sale, transfer or ownership of firearms or ammunition or their components. ” Further, in addition to the Attorney General’s broad authority to see that Mississippi’s laws are properly enforced, the Legislature has charged my office with ensuring local governing authorities do not exceed their statutory power to restrict certain firearm possession.”
Second Amendment advocates are also crying foul and raising the possibility of a lawsuit over Lumumba’s actions. The mayor says he’s empowered to take that step under Mississippi’s emergency powers statute, but several attorneys and firearms instructors in the state concur with the Attorney General that Lumumba is exercising powers that he doesn’t possess.
“The mayor may have the best of intentions, but the Mississippi Supreme Court has made it clear you can’t deprive a person of a constitutional right,” said attorney Thomas Payne, who has successfully argued gun rights cases before the state high court.
Candice Cole, the city’s communication director, said the mayor’s order has been vetted by the city attorney, Tim Howard. It’s legally sufficient — given state law, she said — but is expected to be reviewed, she added. She said the civil emergency declaration allows the mayor to institute the open carry ban.
But Payne disagrees, saying the mayor’s order is illegal. Payne said Lumumba’s order doesn’t comply with the letter of the law and it violates the 2nd Amendment as well as the Mississippi Constitution.
“It’s a no-brainer, it’s unconstitutional and illegal,” Payne said.
The Clarion-Ledger newspaper also spoke to Rick Ward, a retired police officer and longtime firearms instructor in the state, who agreed with Payne that the mayor is overstepping his authority.
Ward said it needs to be clarified there is no open carry law in Mississippi. He said there was a line in a paragraph of the concealed carry law prior to 2013 that said “do not construe that you may openly carry a weapon.”
The 2013, the Legislature approved House Bill 2, and it was signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant, clarifying the concealed carry law, removed the sentence about open carry. Ward said he proposed the change because they had no authority to forbid or regulate open carry since it was in the Constitution.
Ward said the state Legislature was given exclusive authority to regulate firearms. If the state Legislature was not given authority to regulate open carry, it certainly would not have been given to a city legislative body (councilmen) and under no circumstances the executive branch (mayor), he said.
“The mayor is way off-base and I am confident there will be a quick legal fix to the circus he has created,” Ward said. “Guns are not the problem. Criminals are the problem and they couldn’t care less about his executive order.”
In her letter, AG Fitch asks Mayor Lumumba to immediately rescind his order. If he doesn’t, it sounds like a lawsuit by residents of Jackson, Mississippi may be filed as early as Tuesday.
Given the fact that Lumumba isn’t exactly on solid legal ground here, he may decide to do as the Attorney General has asked, but I wouldn’t count on it. This seems like more of a political stunt on the mayor’s part than any real effort to increase public safety, so why would he cave when he could take his fight to a courtroom? Sure, he’ll most likely lose, but then he can blame a judge or those crazy gun nuts for preventing him from taking a “common sense” step to protect the public from violent crime.
In truth, violent criminals don’t give a damn about whether or not they’re breaking the law by illegally carrying a firearm, either openly or concealed. If Lumumba wants to get serious about fighting crime in Jackson, he needs to start by going after criminals instead of trying to infringe on the rights of Jackson’s law-abiding gun owners.