Golden Triangle sheriffs expect few problems with gun ruling

Staff Writer

Area sheriffs say they won't change how they handle security and don't anticipate problems or additional expenses related to the state Supreme Court's ruling that people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses can take their guns into courthouses.

"We haven't had any problems. As long as they don't try to go in the courtroom when court is in session, then we are OK. If someone has a gun and is going into court, we'll ask them to go lock it up in their car. If they are just going to the Circuit Clerk's office, we let them go," explained Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney.

Oktibbeha County's situation is a little different than most because it's primary courtroom is in a separate building that only houses the clerk's office and county supervisors' offices along with the courtroom.
Other offices are in a separate building.

"We've pretty much just been enforcing it in the courtroom and not everywhere else anyway," Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott said.
"If we've had any people bring them in, I don't really know how many. They probably come in and go to the tax assessor's office or chancery clerk's office and we might not even know," he said.

Clay County does not monitor people coming and going from the courthouse daily, only when Circuit Court is in full session.

"When court is in session, we'll know most of the people who have permit. They are good folks," Scott continued.
"We know most of the people with permits. We don't expect any problems," echoed Gladney.

Lowndes County has bailiffs and a metal detector at the courthouse's main entrance during business hours every day and on Saturday's when the courthouse is open for absentee voting. Judges in Lowndes County prompted the Supreme Court's decision by issuing an order banning weapons from within 200 feet of courtrooms, which effectively banned them from the courthouse.
A gun owner and gun rights activist took the case to court and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The three Golden Triangle sheriffs have said in the past they don't see a need for guns in the courthouse and worry that under the wrong circumstances, it could be a problem.

But they aren't angered by the court's ruling.
"If that's what the Supreme Court says, that's the law and we will follow it," Lowndes County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Marc Miley said. "We haven't had any problem and don't think we will. Mossy people are reasonable folks. Like everyone else, we just hope someone doesn't make it an issue by trying to challenge it and get into the courtroom. There's no need for that.

None of the three expect to have to add personnel during court sessions.
"We stay pretty heavily staffed when court is in session anyway. We might do something a little different when its family court or divorces because those are emotional times anyway," Miley said.

Lowndes County's situation has been eased somewhat because the tax assessor's office has moved to an administration building. That office attracts much of the routine day-to-day traffic for county business when court is not in session.
Clay County's situation will change some next year when the county opens a new Justice Center housing Circuit and Justice courts.
Some sheriffs still aren't happy and warn it will cost local governments and the taxpayers who fund them.
"This is going to be a huge, huge tax increase for a lot of the citizens in Harrison County," Sheriff Troy Peterson told television station WDAM.

In it's June 7 ruling, the Supreme Court said judges in the 14th Chancery District overstepped their authority because the Mississippi Constitution specifies that only the Legislature "may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons."
The Legislature enacted a law in July 2011 saying people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses may take guns into courthouses but not into courtrooms.

In November 2011, judges in the 14th Chancery District, which includes Clay, Chickasaw, Oktibbeha, Lowndes, Noxubee and Webster counties, issued an order banning anyone other than law enforcement officers from having concealed guns in and around all parts of courthouses.
When enhanced concealed-carry permit holder Ricky Ward challenged the ban, the judges argued courthouses can be places of high emotion, with people going there for divorces and child custody cases.

They maintained it is reasonable to view hallways and other areas as 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.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and the National Rifle Association submitted court papers opposing the chancery judges' order.

An attorney who practices in chancery court and some other chancery and circuit judges wrote briefs in support of the ban
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 in the minority view of the Supreme Court's decision, Justice Leslie B. King wrote the state's Constitution specifies the administration of justice is only a function of the judicial branch.

"That function and that obligation both extend beyond the four walls of the courtroom," King wrote.

While other justices found the chancery judges violated the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches, King found legislators had done so by enacting a law that allows concealed weapons in most parts of courthouses.