Mississippi pastors call for ban on open carry

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

I share the concerns of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi when it comes to violent crime, but I’m not on board with the organization’s new resolution calling for a ban on open carry in the state.

The state capital of Jackson, Mississippi saw a record high 155 homicides last year; a staggering number for a city of about 160,000 people. This year isn’t shaping up to be much better, unfortunately, with at least 84 murders recorded this year. Something clearly needs to change, but the law surrounding open carry isn’t it, despite what pastors like Dr. C.J. Rhodes maintain.

“There are a lot of sane gun owners out there,” said Rhodes. “And of course, living in, you know, Jackson, you know, you got to make sure you got something out you sometimes. But the fact of the matter is, so many of our people are being terrorized in our communities. We’ve got to do something about that as well. So, yes, I understand the Second Amendment. I understand, you know, bearing arms, but we also need to make sure that we can ensure that folks feel safe in their communities.”

The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to focus on the trigger-pullers, not the right to bear arms. Specifically, Jackson and other communities across the state need to bolster the number of police officers. Homicide detectives are in short supply in the capital city, according to Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who himself has tried to ban open carry in the past (we’ll get to that in just a moment).

“I will always tell you that the Jackson Police Department can do a better job,” Lumumba said, adding that the city has a shortage of police officers. The FBI says a homicide detective should oversee five cases a year. The Jackson Police Department has eight full-time detectives, enough to handle 40 murder investigations — about one-quarter of last year’s homicides.

“They’re certainly inundated,” Lumumba said.

Jackson Police Chief James Davis says the problem goes beyond staffing at the local level. Davis said his department depends on an overwhelmed state crime lab for evidence processing.

“The whole system is backlogged. I could use more police officers. I could use more homicide detectives, but if the state is backed up, the court is backed up, we will still have the same problem by developing these cases that we’re already doing,” Davis said.

The homicide clearance rate in Jackson last year was about 60%; a surprisingly high figure given the lack of staffing in the Homicide Unit. Adding more resources to law enforcement, especially in terms of investigations, could have a serious and positive impact on the shootings and homicides in Jackson, but banning open carry isn’t likely to change a thing.

Speaking of change… in order for the pastors to get their wish, they’d need to change the state constitution, as Mayor Lumumba found out the hard way when he tried to ban open carry in Jackson via a mayoral edict in 2020. Article 12 of Mississippi’s Constitution states: “The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons,” and a federal judge ruled that Lumumba’s edict out of order shortly after it was put in place.

As the state constitution makes clear, the state legislature only has the authority to regulate concealed carry, but even it doesn’t have the power to ban open carry. That would require a constitutional amendment; something that these pastors could certainly campaign for if they wanted, but again, an effort that wouldn’t have an impact on violent criminals.

I’m sure these pastors have the best of intentions, but they’d be much better off trying to change the hearts of the most violent and prolific offenders in cities like Jackson than trying to change the state’s gun laws to prohibit the open carrying of firearms. Or, if they really want to lobby lawmakers, maybe they could send a letter to congressional Democrats urging them to hold a vote on the bill to increase grants to local law enforcement that House progressives are refusing to support. That change could be made without amending the constitution or restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens, and their voices might even make an impact on lefties like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who can’t bring themselves to vote for something so “divisive” as increasing the homicide detectives in order to reduce the number of killers on the streets.