If the top legal experts in Gov. Greg Abbott’s office have their way, a lot of government buildings in Tarrant County will see sharp changes to their security precautions.
Officials will have to back away from current gun restrictions — at least when the people carrying guns are licensed to do so.
People with handgun licenses have the right to take their guns — concealed for now, but openly carried in a belt or shoulder holster after Jan. 1 — into most areas of those buildings, Abbott’s lawyers say.
While even people with licenses aren’t allowed to take their guns into courtrooms or rooms where public meetings are taking place, their access to the rest of the building must be open.
That’s not what many local governments are doing today. If Abbott’s lawyers get their way, it’s going to make it more difficult for local officials to set up security screens.
Places like Fort Worth City Hall and the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center have security stations and metal detectors set up at building entrances, and guns are not allowed past that point.
But a bill passed by the Legislature in May and signed into law by Abbott in June has changed things, his attorneys say. The law went into effect Sept. 1.
Jimmy Blacklock, Abbott’s general counsel, and Andrew Oldham, the deputy counsel, have sent a memo to Attorney General Ken Paxton saying cities and counties don’t get to decide these things for themselves.
They can’t make entire “multi-purpose government buildings” off-limits to guns just because some rooms inside them are no-carry zones.
That means, for example, that while entire floors of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center downtown are devoted to courts and thus can be gun-free, the district attorney’s office in the same building must be open to license holders with guns.
People with guns can be banned from City Council meetings, but they can be armed if they have a meeting with a City Council member.
People who go to City Hall to get a permit or to argue about their utility bill can take a gun with them, so long as they have a license.
Perhaps the logical next step will be that City Hall employees will want to bring their guns to work so they can be equally well-armed.
Abbott’s lawyers have made a strong argument, but they don’t get to decide this question. That’s Paxton’s job.
District attorneys from Tom Green County (San Angelo) and Hays County (San Marcos) have asked Paxton to interpret the new law for them.
Paxton is expected to give an answer to one of those requests in January, his office said Monday.