Thursday, June 7, 2018

You Can't Keep Guns Out Of Mississippi Courthouses

The Mississippi Supreme Court rejects local court efforts to limit guns in the courthouse

In 2011, the Mississippi Legislature amended Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7, granting enhanced concealed-carry licensees the privilege of carrying a concealed firearm in the courthouses of this state, save for courtrooms, which the Legislature left within the province of judges. Litigants, witnesses, and family members who do not have enhanced concealed-carry licenses are subject to the general ban found in Mississippi Code Section 97- 37-1 (Rev. 2014), which makes carrying a concealed weapon illegal for persons without enhanced concealed-carry licenses. Nonetheless, the three chancellors of the Fourteenth Chancery District, on their own motion, issued a court order prohibiting enhanced concealed carry licensees from possessing a firearm in and around courthouse buildings of the Fourteenth District.

Thereafter, Ricky Ward, an enhanced concealed-carry licensee, filed a petition to modify or dismiss the order. The chancellors issued another order denying Ward’s petition and reiterated that enhanced concealed-carry licensees would be prohibited from possessing a firearm in all Fourteenth District courthouses. Ward then filed an Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition in this Court, seeking to have the orders vacated as unconstitutional and in direct conflict with state law...

Having considered the law and arguments offered by the aforementioned, the Court finds that the orders are facially unconstitutional. Furthermore, the orders defy existing Mississippi statutory and caselaw. Accordingly, the orders are vacated. They are nullius juris–of no legal force.


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. Courts must give more than lip service to the rule of law; they must insist upon its lawful application. Judges cannot allow their sense of superior knowledge, perceptions, or understandings to justify open defiance of the very laws that they are called upon to uphold. Indeed, we have held repeatedly that courts are guardians of the Constitution, not guardians of the courthouse. Without question, the orders defy existing law and seek to exercise a power that plainly is reserved for the other branches of government. The orders contain no authority to suggest otherwise. The law of Mississippi is clear: enhanced-carry licensees are permitted to possess a firearm in courthouses. No matter how well-intentioned, judges are without the power to limit enhanced concealed-carry licensees’ right to carry a firearm beyond courtrooms in the State of Mississippi. The orders are vacated.

Chief Justice Waller concurred and dissented

The trial judges in this State possess the inherent, constitutional authority to secure their courtrooms for the fair, efficient, and independent administration of justice. However, because the subject order is facially overly broad, I would vacate the trial-court order without prejudice for the trial judges to enter specific detailed analysis in a modified order supporting gun-carrying restrictions beyond the courtroom for the security of the courtroom.

As did Justice Beam

The majority’s holding today that judges are without authority to control the security outside their courtrooms renders a sad day for justice in Mississippi. I have witnessed firsthand the volatility that embodies the courthouse in situations where emotions are running high in even the most reasonable and steadfast citizens among us. Knowing that litigants, witnesses, and court participants are secure in the sacred halls of the courthouse is imperative to assure “justice for all.”

Justice King dissented

Because the chancellors’ orders are a valid exercise of their inherent power and do not violate the Mississippi Constitution, I dissent.

...While a review of Mississippi law does not reveal any general restrictions or prohibitions on concealed carry of weapons prior to the late 1800s, African Americans, both slave and free, were restricted from carrying or owning weapons. Slaves were generally banned from carrying weapons, absent permission from a justice of the peace on application of his master, and then the slave was only allowed to carry and use a weapon within the limits of his master’s land.

Justice King recites the racist origins of state gun laws and notes that in 1892

The Legislature criminalized concealed carry of weapons, with only narrow exceptions, for approximately one hundred years.

He cites separation of powers considerations

The safety of those compelled to be at the courthouse is necessary for the fair administration of justice; keeping safe and free from threat those people necessary to the judicial process, such as parties, criminal defendants, witnesses, and jurors, is crucial for the administration of justice, the integrity of the judicial system, and the preservation of the constitutional rights implicated at the courthouse. The majority subjugates all of these constitutional rights and provisions to the phrase “the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons,” instead of harmonizing them...

I would find that the order is an appropriate exercise of inherent judicial authority and that Section 97-37-7(2), as applied to the courts, violates the separation of powers. I disagree with the majority’s holding that the phrase “the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons” reigns supreme over every other provision in our Constitution. I would deny Ward’s petition for writ of prohibition, and accordingly dissent.

The votes

    Majority Opinion: Randolph, P.J. Disposition: Vacated. Petitioner and Respondents are taxed with costs of appeal. Votes: Coleman, Maxwell, Chamberlin and Ishee, JJ., Concur. Maxwell, J., Specially Concurs with Separate Written Opinion Joined by Randolph, P.J., Coleman, Chamberlin and Ishee, JJ. Chamberlin, J., Specially Concurs with Separate Written Opinion Joined by Randolph, P.J., Maxwell and Ishee, JJ.; Waller, C.J., and Beam, J., Join in Part. Waller, C.J., Concurs in Part and Dissents in Part with Separate Written Opinion Joined by Beam, J. Beam, J., Concurs in Part and Dissents in Part with Separate Written Opinion Joined by Waller, C.J. King, J., Dissents with Separate Written Opinion Joined by Kitchens, P.J.; Waller, C.J., and Beam, J., Join in Part. Specially Concurring Opinion: Maxwell, J. Votes: Randolph, P.J., Coleman, Chamberlin and Ishee, JJ., Join This Opinion. Specially Concurring Opinion: Chamberlin, J. Votes: Randolph, P.J., Maxwell and Ishee, JJ., Join This Opinion. Waller, C.J., and Beam, J., Join This Opinion in Part. Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part Opinion: Waller, C.J. Votes: Beam, J., Joins This Opinion. Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part Opinion: Beam, J. Votes: Waller, C.J., Joins This Opinion. Dissenting Opinion: King, J. Votes: Kitchens, P.J., Joins This Opinion. Waller, C.J., and Beam, J., Join This Opinion in Part.

 Forewarned is forearmed. (Mike Frisch)

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