Mississippi Supremes Smack Down Judges Banning Guns in Courthouses

Banning people from entering a courthouse with a firearm is wrong, says Supreme Court of Mississippi.

Published Monday, June 11, 2018
Gun Rights Watch article by GRW Chief Editor
Mississippi

A majority of Justices on the nine-member Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled Thursday that judges that banned people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses from taking their guns into courthouses were wrong to do so. The ruling said judges in the 14th Chancery District had overstepped their authority because the Mississippi Constitution specifies that only the legislature "may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons."

The Legislature enacted a law in July 2011 saying that people with enhanced concealed carry licenses may take guns into courthouses. Judges can still forbid them in the courtroom, however, and most have. The problem started from there when in November 2011 the 14th Chancery District Judges issued an order in banning anyone other than law enforcement officers from having concealed firearms anywhere on the property of courthouses in the district, comprising Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, and Webster counties. The judges filed an administrative order banning firearms within 200 feet of a courtroom door.

The problem arose when judges began trying to circumvent the law by changing the definition of a courtroom and claiming that it included the entire courthouse. Some judges then even tried to extend that to the parking lot and all of the courthouse grounds. In response, Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, authored legislation in 2016 to clarify the meaning of courtrooms, but it stalled and failed in committee.

Earlier in 2011, the Mississippi Legislature had passed a law that allows those with enhanced carry permits who have voluntarily completed safe handling and use of firearms courses to carry their weapons inside a courthouse, but not inside a courtroom. Firearm instructor Rick Ward, who has an enhanced concealed carry license then challenged the chancery judges' ban, and the case eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court.

This meaningful step though should prevent arrests for lawful gun owners who carry into a courthouse without knowing that judges in that district had banned them, while also preventing gun owners from having to leave their firearms in their vehicles — a much less safe option.

Justice Mike Randolph wrote in the majority opinion,

"The chancellors may have good and noble intentions, and their concerns are well-founded. However, their personal fears and opinions do not trump, and cannot negate, constitutional guarantees. The ultimate outcome of today's issue is reserved for the Legislature, not to be commandeered by unilateral local judicial proclamations."