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Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s lapse of memory, judgment, or whatever one chooses to call it that left him facing a federal misdemeanor gun charge, is what it is.

For the record (records obtained first by the Hattiesburg Patriot web site), on Jan. 2 at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers Airport, Barbour went through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint as part of trying to board a commercial airline flight to Washington, D.C. A TSA officer found a .38 caliber revolver loaded with five rounds in Barbour’s carry-on bag.

After the incident was reported by the media, Barbour told the Associated Press: “This was absentmindedness and nobody’s fault but mine,” that the TSA and Jackson Airport Police officers who detained him were “very nice but very professional” and that “…they did exactly what they should have done, which was treat me like anybody else.” 

Barbour took public responsibility for that lapse and said he’d pay a stiff fine (in keeping with penalties levied against violators who aren’t former governors or Republican National Committee chairmen). The law enforcement community seemed satisfied and they allowed Barbour to actually board his flight that morning and continue his travel to Washington.

The weapon in question was one Barbour legally owned and, after complying with state and federal law like other citizens, had a right to carry – but not in carry-on luggage into a commercial airliner. Bottom line, Barbour said he attempted to go through the TSA checkpoint with the weapon in his briefcase after forgetting that he’d placed it there before dropping his car off to be serviced.

But there’s no escaping the fact that this wasn’t the former governor’s finest hour. He made a really dumb mistake and made it publicly – one that because of his background, reputation and having held high public and political office makes him quite a target for his detractors.

For Barbour, 70, the incident is first and foremost embarrassing and particularly so for a man other people have long turned to for strategic advice and guidance after they made similar mistakes. Barbour has advised U.S. presidents, members of Congress, business and industrial leaders, and notably one of the nation’s two main political parties. 

But in Mississippi, it’s not even the embarrassment of the media coverage of the event or the subsequent time in the barrel of mostly anonymous social media criticism from political foes that likely stung the most. It’s something else.

For eight years while he served as governor, Barbour was by virtue of his office in charge of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard, and the State Department of Corrections. After Hurricane Katrina, Barbour made what was at the time a controversial statement about guns in response to a media questions regarding talk of gun seizures by New Orleans officials and whether Mississippi would follow suit.

Barbour responded: “No, we won’t confiscate people’s guns. People may need guns to protect their property or lives. And in Mississippi, people who shoot looters won’t be prosecuted.” Criticism of the statement aside, there were few incidents of looting reported in Mississippi.

Barbour’s stance on guns and his support of law enforcement agencies, particularly after Katrina, is part of the former governor’s legacy and why most in the state believe he could still be elected to virtually any state office he sought. The truth is that Barbour’s mistake at the Jackson Airport did very little to shake that belief among his former Mississippi constituents.

What it did do was hand Barbour’s detractors among Democrats and Republican Tea Party zealots alike a gold-plated opportunity to bash him on social media and in news story comments for a time. Google “Haley Barbour arrested.” At present, the search yields 178,000 results and most of those new report citations also contain commentary attached to the stories.

Most critics made little coherent criticism regarding the airport incident at hand. What they focused on was Barbour party allegiance and his political philosophy – realities that made a big target for critics long before the Yazoo City native forgot he had a permitted gun at an unpermitted TSA checkpoint in a carry-on bag. 

Sid Salter   is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

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