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Mississippi Education Board Removes Ban On Guns in K-12 Schools, Citing State Law

Two women in suits sit at a table with mics
The Mississippi Board of Education voted to remove the state's prohibition on carrying guns in public schools after Mississippi Department of Education General Counsel Erin Meyer said the policy conflicts with the state's 2011 enhanced carry law. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The Mississippi Board of Education voted today to remove a policy that barred individuals with enhanced concealed carry permits from carrying guns in the state’s elementary and secondary public schools, revising a 1990 policy that previously prohibited anyone other than “duly authorized law enforcement officials” from doing so. The board made the change as part of an ongoing review of its policies to bring them into compliance with state law.

The board said the 1990 policy prohibiting “the possession of pistols, firearms, or weapons in any form by any person other than duly authorized law enforcement officials on school premises or at school functions” is at odds with the state’s 2011 enhanced-carry law.

“We simply complied with the state law that’s been in effect for the last 11 years,” Mississippi Department of Education Office of Safe and Orderly Schools Director Brian McGairty told the Mississippi Free Press today.

During the meeting, Mississippi Department of Education General Counsel Erin Meyer said the old policy “predates any notable school shootings or the adoption of our enhanced carry permits.”

“This rule currently conflicts with Mississippi’s enhanced carry statutes, so the enhanced carry statute authorizes individuals who have the proper certification to carry weapons in certain areas that are enumerated in statutes,” she said. “That includes elementary and secondary school facilities, so our policy is currently in conflict with that. State board policies can’t prohibit something that is authorized in law.”

Though the prohibitions are gone, a temporary policy still requires “each local school district (to) have a policy concerning weapons on school premises.” Districts will have the option to allow teachers and administrators with permits to carry guns on campus if they so choose. The enhanced concealed carry law does not apply to students, however, because permits are only available for people who are at least 21 years old or people who are at least 18 and in the military.

Meyer pointed to a 2013 opinion that then-Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, issued saying that state law does allow “an individual with an ‘enhanced conceal/carry permit’ to carry a concealed weapon on a Mississippi public school campus.” The former attorney general’s opinion said that “the school may restrict individuals to parts of the campus generally open to the public” if they chose.

“[T]he Legislature has expressly stated in section 97-37-7 (2) that an enhanced permit holder ‘shall also be authorized to carry weapons in… any location listed in subsection (13) of section 45-9-101,’ including ‘any elementary or secondary school facility’ and ‘any school…athletic event….,’” Hood’s opinion said. “In light of this language, our conclusion is that the school district may not bar enhanced permit holders with concealed pistols and revolvers from entry into a school facility or school athletic event to which the general public is otherwise normally permitted.”

Still, the 2013 opinion found that school districts could issue some restrictions on carrying guns.

“A school district may, in its discretion, prohibit its employees who hold enhanced carry licenses from possessing weapons at the school,” Hood wrote. “In the alternative, a school district may, in its discretion, allow its employees with enhanced carry licenses to carry weapons and may expend funds for those employees to be trained for such purpose. 

“Other persons with enhanced carry licenses may enter onto school facilities without violating the concealed weapons statutes; and may enter onto the public areas of those schools without being subject to a possible charge of trespass. School districts may bar persons, including persons with enhanced carry permits, from areas of the school to which the general public is not allowed.”

During the meeting today, Brian McGairty said he has been engaged in preliminary discussions on “developing a course” in order to ensure that individuals allowed to carry weapons on campus “are held accountable.”

He and Meyer told the Mississippi Free Press that the revision is one of dozens in process as part of an effort that began more than a year ago to update policies to bring them into alignment with current state law.

“We’ve been reviewing a host of policies. In the past six months, there’s been about 30 that have been revised. … For example, we just repealed a couple of charter school policies that were in place prior to the 2013 charter school law, so sometimes it just takes a while,” Meyer said. “It’s not an excuse, but rule making there’s a lot involved in it.”

The new temporary rule takes effect immediately. Under state law, MDE must hold hearing before the new policy takes effect if at least 10 residents requests it within 20 days of the department filing the notice with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office. MDE must also allow a 25-day public comment period from the date of the rule change’s filing.

Clarification: This story’s headline and lede previously that the Mississippi Board of Education voted to allow guns in K-12 schools. MDE says the board revised their weapons policy in order to bring it into alignment with current state law and that a 2011 law allows licensed individuals to carry guns on public school campuses. The headline and lede have been updated for clarity.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Brian McGairty’s name as “McGarity.” We apologize for the error.

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