June 8, 2018 11:09:46 AM
JACKSON -- A majority of Mississippi Supreme Court justices ruled Thursday that some local judges were wrong to ban people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses from taking guns into courthouses.
The high court said judges in the 14th Chancery District, which includes the Golden Triangle, overstepped their authority because the Mississippi Constitution specifies that only the Legislature "may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons."
14th District Chancery Judge Jim Davidson said the judges issued the ban with the interests of the public in mind. "To have people with weapons in the halls outside (the courtroom during divorce proceedings), commonsense tells you that's just unreasonable.
"I'm not trying to take anybody's constitutional rights away from them," he added. "But if you tell me that the right of the public to be safe is trumped by the right of somebody to go up and down the hall with a weapon, you know, that just doesn't fly."
The Legislature enacted a law in July 2011 saying that people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses may take guns into courthouses but not into courtrooms.
In November 2011, judges in the 14th Chancery District issued an order banning anyone other than law enforcement officers from having concealed guns in and around all parts of courthouses in the district in Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties.
A resident with an enhanced concealed-carry license, Ricky Ward, challenged the chancery judges' ban.
The chancery judges responded by writing that courthouses can be places of high emotion, with people going there for divorces and child custody cases. They wrote that it is reasonable to consider a courthouse hallway to be an extension of a courtroom and that it is "ludicrous to assume that people in heightened states of emotional upheaval would pause to decide where in the building they can be mad and where they cannot."
The chancery judges also wrote that most confrontations in the courthouses had occurred outside of courtrooms.
Davidson said the judges would follow the Supreme Court's ruling but he is disappointed and feels the ruling infringes on judges' authority.
"It goes to the inherent power of courts to do their job," he said. "It goes to the separation of powers as the third branch of government. It seems this ruling relegates us to (something) like a state agency."
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and the National Rifle Association submitted court papers opposing the chancery judges' ban on concealed weapons throughout the courthouses.
A local attorney who practices in chancery court wrote a brief supporting the ban, as did some other chancery and circuit judges.
People holding enhanced concealed-carry licenses must state on their applications that they do not have felony records and that they are physically and mentally healthy.
In a dissenting opinion Thursday, Justice Leslie B. King wrote that the Mississippi Constitution specifies that the administration of justice is only a function of the judicial branch of government.
"That function and that obligation both extend beyond the four walls of the courtroom," King wrote.
While other justices found that the chancery judges had violated the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government, King found that legislators had done so by enacting a law that allows concealed weapons in most parts of courthouses.
Dispatch news editor Isabelle Altman contributed to this report.
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