Capitol Police and the Mississippi State Highway Patrol increased security around the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Mississippians wanting to visit their state Capitol could come and go as they pleased through multiple entrances, facing no security checks or metal detectors.

It was not unusual for people to enter an unlocked Capitol after hours and roam about, never seeing a law enforcement officer.

As the World Trade Center buildings smoldered that September, former House Speaker Billy McCoy of Prentiss County, then the House Ways and Means chair, spoke to a reporter about the tragedy.

McCoy, often a shade tree philosopher from the foothills of Appalachia in northeast Mississippi, mourned the loss of lives — nearly 3,000 — but also lamented how the act would “forever change our way of life.” McCoy, who first visited the Capitol as a young boy in the 1940s when his father served in the Mississippi House, predicted no longer would access to “the people’s building” be unimpeded. As a result of 9/11, McCoy said people would face security checks going into the Capitol and at other public buildings and at many private buildings and endeavors.

McCoy, who died in 2019, was right, of course, and perhaps in hindsight it did not take great foresight, which he often had, to predict that future.

In the old days, there were normally eight entrances to the Capitol unlocked and unmanned. Today, people can access the building from just two entrances — both manned with security. Though many legislators like to tout their efforts to ensure Mississippians can openly carry a weapon with no permit or training, don’t expect to carry that gun into the Capitol.

The changes made at the Mississippi Capitol because of 9/11 are not unique. Similar changes have occurred at various buildings and events throughout the country. The Capitol is just an example of how that tragic day impacted Mississippi.

People have readily accepted that infringement on their freedom to ensure their safety. It seemed as if people got on the same page soon after the tragedy of 9/11 occurred 20 years ago.

Perhaps that should not be surprising. After all, 9/11 was a life-changing day. But many, if not most, would agree the COVID-19 pandemic has also been a life-changing event. The number of people dying from the pandemic just in Mississippi is nearly three times as many as died on 9/11.

Yet people cannot or will not get on the same page on the coronavirus. Some accuse public officials of being dictators if they speak of short-term mask mandates or of temporary shutdowns. They argue about infringement of their rights if anyone — government official or private entity — suggests a vaccination requirement, even though for decades vaccines have been required to enter kindergarten, enroll in college or, in some instances, to travel to a foreign country.

“This is still America, and we still believe in freedom from tyrants,” Gov. Tate Reeves proclaimed on social media of President Joe Biden’s plan to require certain private businesses to mandate that their employees be vaccinated.

The governor did not address whether we have been living in tyranny for decades because of other federal regulations, such as requiring certain private employees to wear steel-toed boots or other regulations. The regulation for a worker to wear a steel-toed boot protects the toes of that individual worker, while requiring an employee to be vaccinated could provide protection for multiple people.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the events of the day had an immediate impact at the Mississippi Capitol and brought people together. Late on that day, then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Attorney General Mike Moore had a joint news conference even though the two Democrats were viewed as rivals in part because Moore was considered a possible challenger to Musgrove’s re-election effort.

Musgrove recently said he does not remember the details of the news conference — not even the reason for the location of the event. On what was already an unprecedented and surreal day, the rivals held their news conference on the east side of the Capitol by one of those doors that eventually would become permanently locked. It was the first and only time for a news conference to be held in that spot.

Musgrove recently said Moore asked him to join him for the news conference because of reports of price gouging. It was reported that the Attorney General’s office received more than 2,000 calls about gasoline price gouging that day as rumors circulated that the attack would impact the supply chain.

“It was to highlight that it (price spiking) was illegal,” Musgrove said. “It seemed like an appropriate thing to do though I was more focused on security risks related to 9/11.”

When it comes to COVID-19, it is hard to get on the same page on how to address those security risks.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.