Monday, April 27, 2015

Some Mississippi state-owned parks ban guns despite open carry law

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

“Don’t take your guns to town,” a mother warns her son in a song by Johnny Cash.
A move by the state-owned Pat Harrison Waterway District, which manages several parks in the Pascagoula River basin, builds on that theme.
Don’t take your guns to our park, either.

Allen Wright is parks director for the Waterway District. The district’s board of directors, he says, has maintained a no-gun policy for several years now.

“Right now, it’s policy that weapons aren’t allowed in the parks,” Wright said. “To allow someone to carry one on their hip and walk around the park with it, no, that’s just a recipe for disaster, in my opinion.”
Senate Bill 2862, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2010, changed Mississippi law to allow people to carry guns in parks. The law removed the prohibition in Mississippi Code pertaining to guns in parks, except in the case of political rallies, athletic events not involving firearms or concerts. House Bill 2, passed in 2013 and upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court, allowed gun owners to legally carry their weapons in the open with a few restrictions.

State Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said the Pat Harrison Waterway District isn’t complying with state law, which doesn’t include parks as one of the protected areas — such as courthouses, police stations and jails — where open and concealed carry of firearms aren’t allowed. He said state law, which allows anyone older than 18 to carry a concealed weapon in their car or truck, trumps any restriction by the district board.
House Bill 314, which was passed last year and was signed by Bryant, restricts the rights of counties and municipalities to pass restrictive ordinances on firearms and creates an appeal process, handled by the state attorney general’s office. The problem, Gipson said, is that HB 314 doesn’t cover state entities like the Pat Harrison Waterway District, and he may consider addressing that in next year’s legislative session.
“A concealed carry license holder should be able to have their firearm concealed, open or however they want to carry it in a public park,” Gipson told Mississippi Watchdog. “With all of those statutes, I don’t see any authority for any state board or district to ban the carrying of firearms for people to protect themselves and their families.”

Rick Ward, a gun rights advocate, small arms instructor and a candidate for the state House in District 90, said parks shouldn’t be a gun-free zone for law-abiding citizens.
“If you’re going to a state park, criminals like to use parks and there all kinds of case where fugitives were arrested at parks on the run because they don’t want to be at a hotel with surveillance cameras, use a credit card and be tracked,” Ward said. ” You’re there with your family and there’s a pervert who’s a fugitive on the run next to you. You should be able to have your gun.”

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, a separate agency that manages the system of state parks and fishing lakes separate from the Pat Harrison Waterway District, changed its regulations after the new law went into effect July 1 to allow open and concealed carry.

According to MDWP spokesman Jim Walker, open carry is allowed in all of the MWDFP’s state parks, except in what he called “sensitive areas,” which include swimming areas and any office that handles money. The MDWP also allows regular and enhanced concealed-carry permit holders from Mississippi, or any other state with a reciprocity agreement, to carry in state parks.

State law says local governments have the ability to regulate the discharge of firearms, the carrying of firearms at a public park or meeting or the use of firearms in the case of riots, natural disasters and insurrections.

 Steve Wilson is a writer and a journalist. He serves as the Mississippi Bureau Chief for Beginning his career as a sports writer, he has worked for the Mobile Press-Register (Ala.), the LaGrange Daily News (Ga.), Highlands Today (Fla.), McComb Enterprise-Journal (Miss.), the Biloxi Sun Herald (Miss.) and the Vicksburg Post (Miss.) His bachelors degree is in journalism with a minor in political science from the University of Alabama. He served four-plus years in the United States Coast Guard after his high school graduation and is a native of Mobile, Ala.