JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Public Safety on Monday dropped the $6 photo fee it tacked onto the charge for a concealed-carry gun permit starting July 1, and it's working to refund the money to anyone who has already paid it, spokesman Warren Strain said.
Strain told The Associated Press that the photo fee was dropped in response to an attorney general's legal opinion that says state law sets the price of a concealed-carry permit at $100, plus an amount to be paid by the applicant for a fingerprint and background check. DPS has set the fingerprint and background check fee at $32.
The attorney general's opinion says DPS may not charge any more for a concealed-carry gun permit, including the $6 photo fee.
Strain said the $6 photo fee was added at the beginning of the state budget year because a private vendor was charging the department that amount for each gun permit. DPS either had to absorb the cost or pass it on to consumers, he said.
A private company, MorphoTrust, owns and maintains the equipment DPS uses to make the gun permits, driver's licenses and other cards, and it charges DPS a fee for each card, Strain said.
The $6 photo fee remains in place on driver's licenses and other cards DPS issues, such as permits for security guards, Strain said.
Legislative leaders scolded Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz and other DPS executives during a Sept. 18 budget hearing, telling them that law-abiding citizens shouldn't have to pay higher fees for gun permits. Santa Cruz said at the time that he would check to make sure DPS was following state laws.
The commissioner on Oct. 3 requested a legal opinion from the attorney general's office. Although such opinions are nonbinding, they provide guidance to agency leaders and elected officials. State Rep. Joe Warren, D-Mount Olive, also requested an opinion.
Attorney General Jim Hood's opinions about the $6 photo fee on gun permits were dated Friday but publicly released Monday.
Concealed-carry permits are exempt from public records, and it was not immediately clear how many have been issued this budget year. Strain said DPS was working to gather that information
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, issued a news release Monday criticizing DPS for ever charging the $6 photo fee on gun permits.
"The commissioner's action clearly violates state law, demonstrates a lack of leadership and makes it appear he wants to be in the gun control business," Reeves said. "Mississippians are tired of government reaching deeper into their pockets to justify agency overspending."
In a statement issued through Strain, Santa Cruz responded that DPS works hard to quickly issue gun permits and "political posturing is misguided."