OXFORD, Miss. – Though the Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld the state’s “open carry ” law, University of Mississippi officials say it’s clear weapons are still prohibited on campus, and defying that ban could land violators in jail for more than a year.
Weapons are prohibited on campus for two reasons, explained Lee Tyner, the university’s general counsel.
“First, it has long been a felony to possess weapons on school property, including college campuses,” Tyner said. “Second, the university’s governing board, the Board of Trustees for State Institutions of Higher Learning, prohibits weapons on all public universities in Mississippi. The new ‘open carry’ law did not repeal either of these reasons.”
There has been much confusion and misinformation about the new law, Tyner said, but it’s totally clear the university has the power to keep weapons off its property. Just as business and property owners can ban weapons on their premises, the university can also set its own rules for visitors on its grounds. The university can prohibit smoking, skateboarding or almost any other activity.
One element of Mississippi weapons law that remains unclear is how severe the penalty for violating the weapons ban would be for someone with an “enhanced conceal carry permit.” Even before the 2013 open carry legislation, some debated whether those who have an enhanced concealed permit could still face a felony, Tyner said. That question hasn’t been settled in the courts.
The enhanced permit is more stringently regulated and difficult to obtain than regular concealed carry permits. Only about 2,000 Mississippians hold such a permit.
Nonetheless, anyone holding such a permit could still be sanctioned by the university. Those violating the rules could also be asked to leave, and if they don’t comply, arrested for failure to obey a legal order or trespassing. Their future access to campus also could be restricted. Employees or students could face additional consequences.
“It’s prohibited for everyone and a felony for either everyone or 99.5 percent of the people in the state,” Tyner said. “You can’t bring it on campus.”
The campus weapons ban also applies to anyone attending events at Ole Miss, University Police Chief Calvin Sellers said.
“Our biggest concern about guns on campus is a day when there’s a football game,” Sellers said. “The stadium has policies against bringing a weapon into the stadium. In my opinion, that would override the ‘enhanced permit.’ It (may not) be illegal for the permit holder to bring the gun into the stadium, but it’s against the stadium rules. Therefore, they could be denied admission.”
Though complex legal arguments have been part of the debate over the new law, the university’s response is simple to understand, he said.
“As the property owner here, we’re going to set rules and policies, and if you violate them, you’re not welcome here,” Sellers said. “That’s the way we’re going to deal with it.”