Firearms regulation in question at Pat Harrison

Firearms regulation in question at Pat Harrison

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Pat Harrison Waterway District has never allowed firearms on their premises, according to board attorney Jolly Matthews, and now that rule is being called unlawful by one gun rights activist.

Rick Ward of Collins addressed the Pat Harrison Board Thursday, saying their ban on firearms goes against state law.

Ward based his argument on a law passed in 2010 by the Mississippi legislature that made guns permissible in state parks. That law went into effect just after President Barack Obama signed a bill in 2009 that opened all federal parks up for carrying loaded weapons, as long as those states also allowed it, according to Ward.

However, Matthews argues there is a separate statute that allows agencies to choose how to implement gun regulations.

"We don't ask people when they come in to the park whether or not they have a gun," Matthews explained. "If we see one, we ask them to leave it outside the park."

Ward said the attorney general has given an opinion on multiple occasions since House Bill 2 went into effect in 2013, saying it could not be individually regulated.

The board said they would take Ward's concerns under advisement and seek the attorney general's opinion. Ward said if they come back to say their regulations are correct without an opinion from the attorney general, he will take legal action.

Jim Walker, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, which is a separate entity from Pat Harrison, said any person that possessed a valid concealed carry permit could carry a concealed handgun in their parks. Walker also said open carry was only prohibited in certain "sensitive" areas, where there are kids, or main offices.