A few weeks ago, the Mississippi Supreme Court took another step towards dismantling the state’s legacy of Jim Crow gun control laws. If you had read the Mississippi statutes from that era, they would have seemed quite ordinary in an American context:
1. There was no laws against the open carrying of firearms in most public places.
2. Concealed carry required a special permit.
But in practice, Mississippi forbade all gun carrying, at least for persons whom local authorities wished to prevent from carrying guns. The prohibition was accomplished through two steps: First, concealed carry permits were only granted to persons who were special favorites of whoever was issuing the permits. Nominally, citizens could still open carry, without need for a permit. But the Mississippi courts defined “concealed” carry so broadly as to encompass all normal forms of open carry. See, e.g., L.M., Jr. v. State, 600 So.2d 967 (Miss. 1992); Martin v. State, 93 Miss. 764, 47 So. 426 (1908). As Chief Justice Roy Noble Lee explained in a concurring opinion in the L.M., Jr. case:
One of the first cases I undertook as a young lawyer was the defense of a man charged with carrying a concealed weapon. I thought his defense would be simple and easy until I learned what the statute meant. To my amazement, I discovered that carrying a concealed weapon in whole or in part even meant that a revolver carried in a holster on a man’s hip was a partially concealed weapon, riding a horse with a saddle holster and revolver under a person’s leg violated the statute; and that covering a weapon with feet, hands, or clothing meant that the weapon was concealed under the interpretation of the statute. Conceivably, carrying a revolver suspended from the neck by a leather