Forcing weapons on campus

If the Mississippi Legislature’s latest effort to enact yet another “gunslinger” law comes to fruition, here are two suggestions for where Gov. Phil Bryant should hold the signing ceremony.

At Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford or at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. Just make sure the seats are empty, as that could be the outcome if House Bill 1083 becomes law.

The Southeastern Conference’s commissioner, Greg Sankey, has warned the state’s gun-happy lawmakers that if they try to force Mississippi’s two SEC schools to drop their bans on firearms at sporting venues, this state could become off-limits for hosting any games involving SEC schools.

Maybe Sankey is bluffing. But does Mississippi really want to risk having their fall football Saturdays disappear?

And it’s not just sports venues that HB 1083 has in its crosshairs. It wants the state’s universities to also drop their firearms bans at dormitories and classrooms, and they want judges and sheriffs to drop them in county courthouses.

The author of the legislation, Republican Rep. Andy Gipson, says both university presidents and Mississippi jurists have been ignoring a 2011 law he backed that’s supposed to allow people to carry guns almost anywhere on public property after taking a training course and getting an enhanced concealed carry license. The universities, in particular, have interpreted that law to give them the right to define what is “public space” on their campuses. License or not, they universally say, guns aren’t allowed, except those carried by law enforcement officers, in areas where the firearms could create a danger or make students, staff or anyone else visiting their campuses nervous.

Gipson claims there is no such loophole in the 2011 law, and HB 1083 would provide a mechanism to sue any public entity that continues to defy the earlier legislation.

Since HB 1083’s passage, every university president in this state and many of their athletic directors have spoken out against it.

Maybe the Senate will listen. The House didn’t. Even as the objections were mounting last week and there was a chance to pull the bill, 80 members of that chamber voted to send it on.

It’s not surprising that Gipson would push such legislation. The lawyer and Baptist preacher won’t be happy until there is a handgun in every back pocket or purse of every non-felon in this state. What is shocking is that 79 other members of that chamber went along with him.

There are certain situations and places where the ready availability of handguns is just not a good idea. County courtrooms are a perfect example. Divorce proceedings involve intense emotions that can easily boil over. That’s just not a good place for the divorce participants to have ready access to a handgun. Any gun in a courtroom needs to be in the holster of the security guard.

Some of them may be cowed by the gun lobby, which pushes against even the most sensible gun restrictions. Gun ownership in America is a fundamental right that we will always support. But the gun lobby has gotten so powerful that legislators are afraid to back even the most sensible restrictions. Forcing universities against their will to have guns everywhere on campus, including emotionally-infused football games, is too ideologically extreme.

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