Mississippi Schools Can Still Make Their Own Gun Policies

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — Mississippi school districts will be able to make their own weapons policies, according to a rule the State Board of Education voted to approve on Thursday.

In July, the board voted to approve the rule temporarily. Thursday's vote made the rule permanent. The new rule removed language from the department's internal weapons rule that the board said conflicted with Mississippi’s 2011 enhanced conceal carry law.

The 2011 law made it legal for individuals with enhanced carry licenses to carry guns on public school campuses. The department of education's original internal rule prohibited anyone other than law enforcement from carrying guns on public school campuses. Under the new permanent rule, local school districts can establish their own policies regarding weapons on campus.

Tuesday's vote came after a 25-day public comment period. Paula Vanderford, an official with the state department of education, said the department received 44 public comments, five of which requested a public hearing on the policy before it was made permanent. The department would have been required under state law to hold a hearing if at least 10 residents had requested one.

Vanderford said the department received 26 other comments in favor of making the rule permanent and 13 that were opposed. Those who were in favor said the rule provides clarity over who is allowed to bring guns to school campuses.

Joshua Bernstein, a father of two children at a Hattiesburg public elementary school, is one of the people who requested a hearing on the rule. He said armed civilian responders are more likely to endanger students and staff than help prevent violence.

“I myself am a former infantry soldier, and don’t believe guns have any place in the classroom or on public school grounds,” Bernstein wrote.

The department of education said the rule change was necessary for bringing internal policy into compliance with state law. After the rule was first adopted in July, attorneys for the department said local school districts now have the authority to determine their own weapons policies.

Research conducted by Everytown, a gun reform organization, found that Mississippi is one of the six states that allow permit holders other than school personnel to carry guns in schools. Public schools in Mississippi are permitted to spend money on training employees to use guns.

The department said local school districts should review their current weapons policies to ensure they comply with federal and state law.

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Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.