Charlie Mitchell: Mississippi remains reliably friendly to firearms owners

February 11, 2013 10:59:34 AM



OXFORD -- There are no states more reliably and consistently friendly to gun owners and gun manufacturers than Mississippi. That's clear, well beyond any doubt. 


At the federal level, rhetoric continues. Any federal changes could and would apply in Mississippi, but if Congress ultimately decides to leave things up to the locals, firearms fans in the Magnolia State have no worries. 


Indeed, if state lawmakers decided this Valentine's week to rewrite Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem, "How Do I Love Thee (National Rifle Association)," counting the ways would be easy. 


Some basics: 


1. There is no registration of firearms in Mississippi. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Moreover, state law also forbids cities and counties from adopting any law requiring registration. No state agency or office keeps a list of who owns what, period. 


2. No person is required to purchase any type of permit or license to own firearms and have them in their homes or vehicles. Optional permits ($132 for five years) are available for those who wish to be legal when packing other than in their homes or vehicles. (The fine for, say, walking down a sidewalk with a pistol in your purse and not having a permit is $25.) 


3. Lawsuits against gun manufacturers are banned by statute if the complaint is that the gun did what guns do -- fire a projectile. (Sellers asked for and got this law to stop "nuisance" suits after accidents and suicides.) Gun manufacturers can be sued for flawed products, but not because someone pulled a trigger and a bullet came out. 


4. And in changing a public policy that had lasted for decades, Mississippi's "castle doctrine" OKs use of deadly force in defense of property. Would-be burglars, car-jackers, purse snatchers can be -- and have been -- shot dead. Authorities write a report and walk away. 


These are just a few examples of how guns and their ownership and usage have a near-sacred status in Mississippi. 


This session the Legislature has jumped all over making the names of "concealed carry" permit holders a state secret. Now think about it. A smart burglar would want this list not to decide which homes to burglarize -- but to know which homeowners are armed and would blow them away! Regardless, open government be damned if lawmakers can give the appearance of being even more adamantly opposed to any limitation on the right to keep and bear. 


To what effect? 


Statistics are not helpful and often contradictory. As a state in 2011, Mississippi had the third-highest rate of homicides using firearms -- at 7.5 of every 100,000 residents. (Twenty-six percent of homicides in the state did not involve firearms.) Yet other states that also have few restrictions -- Colorado, Texas and others -- had nowhere near the homicide rate of Mississippi. 


Then, there's Hawaii, which has very strict laws. There was one -- one -- gun homicide in Hawaii in 2011. Compare Hawaii's strict laws with Detroit, Chicago and the District of Columbia, which have firearms restrictions stronger than Hawaii's, but gun homicide rates triple those of Mississippi or higher. 


It seems that the presence or absence of firearms restrictions has nothing to do with homicide rates. 


A couple of weeks ago the opinion was offered here that when the nation decides to get serious about reducing killings, civil discourse will be required. That column fired a lot of people up. One reader said he clipped it out and used it for target practice. 


But whether we like it or not, a broad approach is what it will take. Be honest. We live in an era of bloody movies and video games. Our cities are plagued by gangs who celebrate destruction. 


Yet here the Legislature stampedes to pass empty gestures. Elsewhere, mayors of cities with the most murders and the most gun restrictions already in place think additional laws are the solution. And, of course, some insist that personal ownership of military weapons is necessary, right and proper -- or that if guns are the problem, more guns are the solution. 


If that's to be the pattern, so be it. 


But we've got to stop pretending to be surprised when the next news helicopters hovers over a school, a movie or a shopping center and shows us the blood of innocents. 


The nation will either choose to take rational steps away from celebrating weapons and violence or it won't. And if we don't, we must accept the consequences.