In a contentious suit the Texas Attorney General is standing up for gun rights by suing Waller County over an open carry exemption.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pursuing legal action against Waller County over an exemption in its open carry law that bans guns at its courthouse offices.
The law allows licensed citizens to openly carry handguns, but has an exemption prohibiting firearms “on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court” without written authorization from the court.
Paxton argues that the exemption does not apply to the Waller County courthouse because the building also has non-judicial areas, such as the county clerk’s office.
Making a statement, Paxton said,
“A local government cannot be allowed to flout Texas’s licensed carry laws, or any state law, simply because it disagrees with the law or doesn’t feel like honoring it. I will vigilantly protect and preserve the Second Amendment rights of Texans.”
The brouhaha began when Terry Holcomb Sr., founder of the Texas’ Second Amendment group Texas Carry, saw and took issue with a sign at the courthouse prohibiting guns in the building. Holcomb said that after he filed a complaint with Paxton’s office, Waller County took preemptive legal action and sued in an attempt to intimidate him.
“Regardless of where we sit on the gun issue, it’s good that we can agree and disagree on this issue,” Holcomb said. “And it’s good that the courts have a venue to handle these type of legal battles, but to sue a citizen, the repercussions of that are far reaching.”
Paxton’s position is seen as going too far by some, such as Waller County’s District Attorney Elton Mathis. Mathis emphasized that the county would adhere to a court’s judgment but not to Paxton’s interpretation of the law.
“We as a county have sought to have the law clarified by the courts (as it should be) to protect the rights and duties of all citizens and now the AG seeks to penalize another branch of government for not bowing to big government and his interpretation of the law,” Mathis said. “We respect the laws as written by the Legislature, and ultimately we will respect the court system and the judges that were elected to make these decisions without the influence of politics and special interest groups.”
Paxton’s office has sent 18 letters to cities and counties, including the Dallas Zoo, the Mineola Nature Preserve and the Woodway Police Department, after people complained about signs that banned handguns from the premises or buildings.
Text on the Texas Attorney General webpage reads:
When uncooperative governments post signs to ban Texas citizens from carrying where it is legal, they are breaking the law and infringing on Texans’ Second Amendment rights. Pursuant to Senate Bill 273 passed by the 84th Legislature, citizens may file complaints against these political subdivisions that unlawfully post signs prohibiting concealed weapons on property where concealed handgun license holders are legally permitted to carry.
Individuals who observe violations must first file a complaint with the government that appears to be in violation. If the entity does not remove the sign within three (3) days, citizens may file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to investigate the matter and enforce the law.
Some of the entities removed the signs and some, such as the City of Austin, prepared for a fight against the Attorney General.
In that instance a city spokesperson indicated that,
“The City’s position has remained consistent. It is a criminal offense under Texas law to possess or carry a handgun on the premises of a government court or offices used by the court. Because the City of Austin Municipal Court conducts court proceedings in the Austin City Hall building and maintains office space for court personnel we believe state law prohibits possessing or carrying a weapon in City Hall (except by law enforcement personnel). We are prepared to defend this lawsuit and look forward to having this matter resolved by a court.”
The Attorney General’s suit asks the court to compel Austin to follow the law by levying fines up to $1,500 per day if they do not comply by removing the signs.
Paxton stated, “I will always make sure that governments do not trample on the Second Amendment rights of Texans, and if they do, we will sue.”
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