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Judge Upholds Waller County's Ban on Guns at Courthouse

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The Second Amendment has it limits, even in Texas. A Waller County judge on Monday upheld the county's ban on guns in its courthouse, which a gun-rights activist had declared was illegal.

That activist, Terry Holcomb, is the executive director of gun-rights group Texas Carry. Over the summer, Holcomb insisted Waller County had no right to ban guns in its entire courthouse, with the exception of courtrooms themselves. The Waller County courthouse also houses other government departments.

County officials maintained the courthouse gun ban was permissible and necessary to ensure public safety. The county sued Holcomb in the hopes of getting a judge to issue a ruling to that effect. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he was pleased with the ruling issued by Judge Albert McCaig Jr., which rejected Holcomb's argument.

"We were confident in our legal reasoning, we were confident in the law and in doing the right thing on behalf of the county," Mathis said. "It feels good to have some validation from the judiciary, which is who the Texas Constitution charges with interpreting the law, and not the attorney general."

Mathis referenced state AG Ken Paxton, who sued Waller County after Waller County sued Holcomb. Paxton claimed the courthouse gun ban ran afoul of Texas's open carry law that went into effect in 2015.

Paxton's lawsuit remains open in Travis County, but Mathis said he will seek to have it thrown out, since he believes the Waller County ruling settles the issue on the district court level.

Mathis said he disagrees with Paxton's interpretation of the state's open carry law, and noted that groups including the Texas Association of Counties, Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association and a majority of state district attorneys supported Waller County's ban.

Holcomb said he was unsurprised by Monday's ruling, which he said should alarm Texas residents. But he said the gun issue was actually his secondary concern. In agreeing with Waller County, Holcomb said Judge McCaig silenced his free speech rights by permitting the county to sue him. He promised to appeal the ruling all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court, if necessary.

"If they want to act like thugs, we will treat them like thugs," Holcomb said of Waller County.

Texas Carry has picked fights with counties across the state over their gun bans. As we wrote back in August:

Holcomb's complaint to Waller County is part of a new law that allows Second Amendment-loving Texans to complain about gun bans they don't like. Holcomb, who resides in San Jacinto County, has filed 76 such complaints across the state; he has been successful in convincing government officials to amend their gun-ban signage 26 times. 

Holcomb said he also plans to lobby the Legislature to allow citizens to sue their local governments. Government entities in Texas, like most states and the federal government, are largely protected by sovereign immunity.

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