Nearly 100 people gathered outside of the Mississippi State Capitol on Friday to support the state’s open carry law and to protest the closure of nonessential businesses. 

Some of those in attendance were armed with semi-automatic rifles and handguns on their hips, and a few wore masks to guard against the spread of COVID-19. The protesters waved signs as they listened to small business owners talk about issues they have faced with their businesses closed. Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and Rep. Brady Williamson, R-Oxford, expressed support for the protesters. 

“We are not here to suggest that the virus isn’t dangerous, the virus is dangerous.” McDaniel said. “We are not here to suggest that people shouldn’t voluntarily make wise decisions on how to live their lives. Voluntary wise decisions: that’s what makes this country great.” 

A few hours later at a news conference, Gov. Tate Reeves and the state’s health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs used the latest data on the pandemic to warn Mississippians that the danger hasn’t passed. The Mississippi State Department of Health announced on Friday 397 new COVID-19 cases and 20 new deaths, both the most reported in one day. Here are images from that rally. 

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Eric J. Shelton is a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018.