Last Updated on January 27, 2016 – 6:56 AM CST
Above: The Moore County Commissioners’ Court said there will be no concealed or open carry in the Moore County Courthouse for the public.
Signs soon will be posted at the Moore County Courthouse advising people that carrying a concealed weapon or open carry isn’t allowed inside the building. The Moore County Commissioners made that decision Monday after discussing ambiguous legal opinions from Austin that aren’t clear if open carry is or isn’t allowed in the state’s courthouses.
Moore County Attorney Scott Higginbotham told the commissioners the Texas attorney general said the Legislature intended to prohibit concealed handguns from courtrooms and those offices essential to the operation of the courts. It became legal to open carry in Texas on Jan. 1, but some of the state’s county officials don’t want handguns in any area of their courthouses, including the Moore County Commissioners. Some of the waters get muddied when defining what offices are considered essential to the operation of the courts. The commissioners identified those areas as the courtrooms, the district and county clerk’s offices, the district attorney and county attorney’s offices, judges’ chambers, the probation offices, jury rooms and others, but another county took it further.
The McClennan County Commissioners’ Court said, “ … hallways, common areas, stairwells, elevators and restrooms are used by the persons involved in the judicial process, including judges, jurors, witnesses, parties, prosecutors, attorneys and judicial personnel.” A week before open carry became legal in Texas, the commissioners voted to prohibit concealed or open carry in their courthouse. The district judges in McClennan County then defined 13 areas they say are essential to the operations of their courts.
The prohibition gets sticky in Moore County because if an office in the courthouse isn’t considered to be one of those essential to the operations of the court and where open carry is allowed, but someone has to walk down a hallway where open carry is prohibited, then what do you do? Higginbotham said that’s an example of why the open carry law is causing some angst across the state.
The commissioners said signs prohibiting concealed and open carry will be posted on the courthouse’s doors. They’ve already been posted at the two justices of the peace’s offices. In the building that houses the tax office and juvenile probation, a sign will be posted to prohibit concealed and open carry in the juvenile probation office, but not for the tax office. The Moore County Community Building won’t be restricted, either, unless students participating in a school function are there. Concealed and open carry aren’t allowed at the schools or a building where students are involved in school activities. That means the library can post signs banning concealed and open carry while students are there on a class outing, but they’ll have to take them down when they leave. Concealed and open carry also will be banned from the rodeo arena because it’s owned by the school district.
Commissioners Lynn Cartwright asked if the county employees working in the courthouse could be exempt from the restrictions, and Higginbotham said they can if the commissioners allow it. He suggested the commissioners include a section in the policy manual to allow employees to carry a concealed weapon.
Moore County Sheriff Bo DeArmond said he’s seen only person open carry since the law went into effect.
“Most people don’t want to open carry,” he said.
Higginbotham said if someone files a legal challenge against the concealed and open carry bans at the courthouse, the state allows a grace period to address it.