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State Acts to Remove Gun Ban from Campus Public Spaces

JACKSON, Ms.  — It’s guns versus college football in a dispute over where certain Mississippi residents can carry firearms.

At issue is House Bill 1083, which would void rules limiting where some people are allowed to carry guns on public property. House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, the bill’s sponsor, says all it does is remove illegal rules that universities, judges and others have erected to bar guns. But universities say guns in stadiums could lead to opponents refusing to play in Mississippi and guns in dormitories could alarm parents.

The bill passed the House 80-29 Wednesday. It was held for the possibility of more debate and will have to pass the state Senate.

The root of the dispute is a law passed in 2011 that’s supposed to let people carry guns almost anywhere on public property after taking a training course and getting an enhanced concealed carry license. Universities have interpreted the law to say they can define public spaces, and have mostly excluded sports venues, dormitories, classrooms. Judges and counties have also reacted negatively to allowing people to carry guns everywhere except an active courtroom, with many still enforcing blanket bans on guns anywhere in a courthouse.

Gipson, a Braxton Republican, says he’s tired of what he sees as defiance of the law. His bill creates a process to challenge bans. The attorney general’s office would have to investigate written complaints within 30 days. If the agency didn’t stop violating the law, a person could then sue.

“We gave them seven years to fix this,” Gipson said. “I understand they don’t like the law, but the bottom line is this has been the law for a long time.”

But universities are reacting negatively to the bill. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey sent a letter Wednesday saying the conference wants sports venues exempted from the law.

“It is likely that competitors will decline opportunities to play in Oxford and Starkville, game officials will decline assignments, personal safety concerns will be used against Mississippi’s universities during the recruiting process and fan attendance will be negatively impacted,” Sankey wrote to Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter.

“I believe that a majority of the parents of the outstanding young people we are entrusted with educating and nurturing share my concerns about the passage of this bill and with it the introduction of firearms into our classrooms and our residence halls,” Keenum said in a statement.

Other states, including Arkansas, Georgia and Texas, have faced similar issues.

Gipson said it’s acceptable for schools to require students and employees not to carry guns, but says people with the license should get their rights. He said, for example, that someone should be able to carry a gun when visiting a patient at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The hospital complex has adopted particularly restrictive rules about where guns are allowed.

“These are the safest people in a state when it comes to concealed carry,” said House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, arguing that the additional training makes the enhanced permit holders safer than typical concealed carry-permit holders. Governments can ban most people who carry guns from a wide range of places.

Others, though, argued that even trained gun owners pose threats in courthouses or at sporting events.

“There are other citizens you’re apparently forgetting about,” said Rep. Rufus Straughter, a Belzoni Democrat.

Gipson has brought out a stream of pro-gun bills. Some Democrats accuse him of political posturing on behalf of the National Rifle Association.

“It’s about NRA, A or F, which rating do you want to have?” said Rep. Steve Holland, a Plantersville Democrat. Holland said his mother carries a handgun while serving as a Lee County Justice Court judge.

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