This week, the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously overturned Hinds County Judge Winston Kidd's injunction against House Bill 2. That came as no surprise. Despite good intentions, the attempt to stop the legislation seemed more an act of desperation than one based in law.
What is surprising to us is that Mississippians—in particular, members of the overly partisan state Legislature—seem unable to move past the rhetoric concerning guns. It looks to us like a case of the tail wagging the dog: Few, if any, of Mississippi's leaders dare to touch the issue for fear of losing votes.
Here's the problem: Allowing every Mississippian to openly carry guns puts all of us in real danger. So say the state's top law-enforcement and prosecutors. That danger was the impetus for people like Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith to seek an injunction against the law. "It's difficult to determine who is a threat, and (who) isn't a threat," Smith said during a press conference in June.
Here's what Smith meant: When just about anyone can openly carry a gun without a permit, how can we tell whether a person has a gun legally? Guns are easy to obtain in Mississippi. Like most states, sales between private individuals are not subject to background checks. That so-called "gun-show loophole" means that felons can just as easily buy guns as perfectly law-abiding citizens.
Just carrying a gun openly does not give police latitude to stop someone whom they don't know has a felony record.
"[T]he mere fact that a person is openly carrying a weapon, without anything more, does not give the officer grounds to detain that person, or to require him to submit to questioning," wrote Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in his opinion about House Bill 2 in June.
To be fair, Mississippi's leadership isn't alone in this particular race to the bottom. Congress is loath to do battle with powerful industry lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association, even when the majority of Americans cry out for their leaders to do something—anything—to stop the gun violence in our country. Gun lobbyists have defined the parameters of the playing field.
Now, Jackson City Council President Charles Tillman has proposed an ordinance banning guns from any public venue in the capital city. If our prognosticators' hats are on right, the ordinance faces an uphill battle. Nevertheless, we congratulate Mr. Tillman for taking a stand on guns, something few politicians seem willing to do.
What seems clear to us is that it is not enough to simply expect our leadership to do the right thing. Ultimately, it is the people who will pay the price. And it's the people who must make their voices heard. Without our noisy and messy demands for change, chances are nothing different will ever happen.