Terry Holcomb, the executive director of the gun-rights group Texas Carry, doesn't think people should have to disarm themselves to go to the Waller County courthouse building if they aren't going to court.
So he filed a complaint with county officials, arguing that the ban on guns inside the entire courthouse building — instead of just in individual courtrooms — is illegal. It's the most recent gun-rights gripe to add to the noisy debate and confusion over where, exactly, government officials are allowed to ban guns in buildings that house multiple departments, yet also have courts.
In this case, though, Waller County took that debate to a whole new level: In attempt to make Holcomb go away, the county just decided to sue him. Seeking to prove they're allowed to ban guns inside the whole courthouse building, county officials are asking a judge for a declaratory ruling to affirm their position and also for damages up to $100,000 (County Attorney Trey Duhon clarified that, despite this being in the lawsuit, the county is actually not seeking any damages against Holcomb).
In a statement, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he wasn't going to honor Texas Carry's request to open up the courthouse building to guns “just to pander to a small group of citizens who do not even reside in Waller County and who don’t want to understand that even the 2nd Amendment has limitations.”
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. If they don't comply with Texas Carry's wishes, then Holcomb complains to the Texas Attorney General's Office — the second prong of this new law. The AG's office has the authority to determine whether the gun ban is in compliance with the law, and if it doesn't think so, then the office can file suit.
Looks like Waller County beat the AG to the punch.
"It's intentionally heavy-handed," Holcomb said of the county's lawsuit. "They're gonna use the power of their office to try to use force and try to teach us a lesson. But they probably should've done their homework a little bit more before they did that, because our complaint was within the law, and governments like this just show that they don't care about the law."
Holcomb does have an AG's opinion to back him up. Last fall, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion that the law allowing government officials to prohibit guns in courthouses applies only to actual courtrooms and court offices. The rest of the building? Have at it, according to Paxton.
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Still, Mathis recalled in his statement that, in the past 15 years, there have been at least three shootings outside of Texas courthouses. Allowing guns even inside the building at all, he argued, was just asking for trouble. “Can you imagine the carnage if they were permitted inside...inside the building where murderers are sentenced, where couples divorce, and where children are removed from their parents for their own protection?” he said.
Holcomb said he understands the concern about emotions running high at courthouses, but countered that by saying emotions run high everywhere, and that shouldn't mean the government can take away the right to protect himself in specific places.
"It's an emotional position that I think has good intent — it's just misplaced," Holcomb said. "Heightened emotions are in every area of our life. You can't get away from those heightened emotions no matter where you go. Law-abiding citizens are going to be law-abiding citizens even with heightened emotions. Criminals are going to be criminals regardless of the situation."
Harris County may as well be Holcomb's next target: Guns are prohibited in both the criminal and civil court buildings. Harris County Attorney's Office lawyer Robert Soard said it would be beyond common sense to attempt to permit guns only in specific, isolated portions of the building, since its entire purpose revolves around the court system. But Soard said he feels for smaller counties like Waller, where courts are lumped in with many of the county's operations in a single building, and where attempting to create a maze of gun bans and permissions depending on what floor you're on would prove to be one tall, frustrating task.