Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing a rural, Houston-area county for displaying signs outside its courthouse that prohibit carrying firearms on its premises.
Paxton is bringing the suit under a year-old law—Texas Government Code § 411.209—that bars “state agencies or political subdivisions” from posting signs that prohibit concealed handgun holders. Paxton has also sued the city of Austin for violating that law, and that case is pending.
“A local government cannot be allowed to flout Texas’s licensed carry laws, or any state law, simply because it disagrees with the law or doesn’t feel like honoring it,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “I will vigilantly protect and preserve the Second Amendment rights of Texans.”
Paxton notified county officials earlier this year that they had 15 days to comply with the law or face legal action. But Waller County Judge Trey Duhon refused, arguing that he is adhering to Texas state law and reiterating his desire to have the law clarified in court.
“We fully expected [the suit] to be filed, and we look forward to a hearing on the merits,” Duhon told the Los Angeles Times. “We believe we are fully complying with what the Texas Legislature intended.”
“We are anxious to have the issue resolved by the courts so that all Texans can be safe and sure about the law,” Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis added.
It is true that Texas law is unclear on this issue. The statute Paxton references in his suit (§ 411.209) is straightforward enough, but there is another law—Texas Penal Code § 46.03—that specifically allows firearms to be prohibited “on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court.”
Paxton argues that, while Judge Duhon has the right to ban firearms in his courtroom, he does not have the right to ban firearms in the entirety of the Waller County courthouse, which also houses the offices of independent county officials.
“The county treasurers’ offices and county elections’ offices do not qualify as offices utilized by a government court,” Paxton’s office said in a press release.
Waller County officials remain unconvinced. District Attorney Mathis told the Wall Street Journal that Paxton is “just plain wrong in his interpretation of the law.”
The security risks, Mathis continued, are far too great. The “courtroom doors are made out of glass and that’s not going to stop a bullet,” Mathis told The Associated Press. Courtrooms, he said, are the scene of emotionally charged cases that have been known to erupt in violence: “people tried for murder, molesting children, victim’s families and people involved in family law disputes.”
The latest suit seeks a fine of $1,500 for each day the county doesn’t allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in the courthouse.