Tarrant County commissioners seemed confident this past week when they declared five county buildings that house courtrooms to be off-limits to people carrying guns.
But under a new state law that went into effect in September, their decision is open to challenge from gun rights advocates. Given that Tarrant County is home to some of the state’s most vocal of those advocates, the odds of a challenge being filed seem pretty high.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has made the complaint process easy. Paxton has a page on his website where people can file electronic complaints against local government gun bans.
“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,” a statement on the web page says.
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Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson issued a memo last month saying the law allows bans against “public carrying of firearms in all portions of buildings which predominantly house courts or offices used by the court.”
Paxton sees things differently, particularly the part about “all portions” of buildings that are “predominantly” court facilities.
“We construe [allowable gun bans] to encompass only government courtrooms and those offices essential to the operation of the court,” Paxton wrote.
That means if there are any county offices in the buildings covered by the commissioners’ ban that are not specifically part of court operations, the Texas attorney general believes they should be open to people carrying guns.
Are there any such offices? Maybe.
One of the buildings covered by the blanket gun ban is the historic 1895 courthouse. In Room B20 is the county clerk’s records filing office, housing all sorts of official real estate records, liens, notices, livestock marks and brands, powers of attorney, oil and gas leases and other documents.
Room 420 is the county’s law library, which is “open to the public and is intended for use by persons engaged in legal research,” the library’s web page says.
The law calls for stiff fines — up to $10,500 a day — against government subdivisions that ban guns in places where they should be allowed.
The commissioners and Wilson might be right. And they might get the opportunity to prove it in court.