Return of the Wild W ...

Return of the Wild West: Mississippi’s New Firearms Laws

June 10, 2013 | by Butler Snow

Workplace Vol. 2013 No. 5

mjohnsonAs many American began to feel the heat of President Obama’s gun control legislation, the Mississippi legislature took steps to further expand gun rights in Mississippi.  House Bill 2, which goes into effect on July 1, 2013, expands the current weapons statute, Miss. Code Ann. 97-37-1, to allow citizens to openly carry firearms in public without requiring a concealed carry permit.  In light of Mississippi’s existing “Guns in Trunks” law and recent expansion of state issued concealed carry permits, House Bill 2 is yet another pro-gun rights victory.  As a continuing saga to Kara Shea’s “Tennessee Passes Guns in Trucks Law” from the Workplace Vol. 2013 No. 2, this Article explores similar topics in Mississippi.

Comparison of the Old and New Laws 

The old weapons statute was unclear about whether a person could lawfully carry a weapon of any type openly, stating only that it was unlawful to “conceal in whole or in part.”  In 2012, the Mississippi Attorney General issued an opinion stating that not only was it unlawful under the current statute to openly carry a holstered pistol (because the holster would conceal the pistol “in part”), but that any concealed carry permit holder who temporarily or accidentally displayed their firearm would also be in violation of the law.  That same year, the state legislature passed a bill allowing for an “extended carry” permit, which allows a permit holder to carry a concealed weapon everywhere but courtrooms during judicial proceedings, law enforcement stations, and places prohibited by federal law.

House Bill 2 clarifies the meaning of “concealed” to mean “hidden or obscured from common observation,” but that it does not include a pistol carried in a holster or case.  Furthermore, the requirement of licensure to carry a firearm concealed does not apply to anyone carrying a stun gun or pistol that is not concealed – meaning in a holster or case.  Unchanged with the new law, a person may carry a concealed weapon in his own home or his place of business or within any motor vehicle.  Additionally, even with a concealed carry permit, the holder can be “disallowed in any place” where the owner has a sign stating that “carrying of a pistol or revolver is prohibited.”  This type of law is referred to as a “Gunslinger Law.”

So the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid may not be such a thing of the past, but what effect might this law have on an employer’s ability to restrict firearms in their workplace?  Businesses may experience more patrons, or even employees, openly wearing firearms and demanding entrance to private establishments.  Employers are provided safety in that they can disallow anyone with a firearm in their place of business if the proper sign is displayed.  Although the law is ambiguous when it says a person may carry a weapon in their place of business, the law most likely intends only to protect the person from criminal prosecution rather than to confer an absolute right to carry a weapon on someone else’s property.  There is another law that Mississippi employers should be aware of before implementing a blanket ban on firearms on company property.

Mississippi’s Guns in Trunks Law 

For years, Mississippi has had a law similar to Tennessee’s recent “Guns in Trunks” law.  Miss. Code Ann. § 45-9-55 restricts both public and private employers from prohibiting their employees from transporting or storing firearms in an employee’s locked vehicle on any company parking area, unless that area uses a gate, security station, or other means to restrict access.  This law does not apply to vehicles owned or leased by the employer and only applies to an employee’s locked personal vehicle.

Unlike the Mississippi law, Tennessee requires the person to have a handgun-carry permit in order to keep a firearm in their car on company property, and Tennessee does not address whether an employer can ban guns from a company vehicle.  Like the Tennessee law, Mississippi’s law states that employers will not be liable for damages or injuries caused by firearms stored on their premises by employees in accordance with the law.  Additionally, both states’ laws do not authorize the transportation or storage of a firearm where prohibited by federal law – there is currently no federal law that regulates firearms at private places of employment.

Bottom Line 

Although lawmakers in Mississippi continue to pass pro-gun legislation, at this point there is no law on the books that prohibits an employer from banning firearms in the workplace or company car.  However, there is no definitive answer for whether that employer may incur liability for terminating someone for violating a weapons policy.  As long as the employee’s right to keep a firearm in his or her locked personal vehicle in an unsecured parking area is not infringed upon, then Mississippi’s at-will employment status should shield employers with firearms policies.  Although arguments exist on both sides, an employee asserting a suit for wrongful termination for possession of a firearm will not readily find Mississippi legal authority to support that claim.

With the heated debates over enhanced security vs. enhanced gun control in response to workplace violence, such as the 2003 Lockheed Martin shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012, it is impossible to predict how the state legislature, Congress, or the judiciary may react to employment policies banning firearms.  However, any employer who seeks to successfully administer such a ban on weapons in the workplace should ensure it has a clear firearms policy that does not violate existing Mississippi law.  For advice on firearm and other workplace policies, please contact the author of this article or any of Butler Snow’s Labor and Employment attorneys for guidance.

Workplace is published by the Butler Snow Labor and Employment Group. This newsletter focuses on developments in areas such as policy manuals, staffing and employment contracts, compliance matters, employment litigation and labor law.