Texas AG office sues Waller County over courthouse gun ban

By Karen Kidd | Sep 6, 2016

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton  

AUSTIN – Waller County faces a lawsuit from State Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office over its controversial courthouse gun ban.

The attorney general's office filed a lawsuit in District Court of Travis County on Aug. 29.

“A local government cannot be allowed to flout Texas’ licensed carry laws, or any state law, simply because it disagrees with the law or doesn’t feel like honoring it,” the Republican attorney general's office said in a statement issued the same day the lawsuit was filed. “I will vigilantly protect and preserve the Second Amendment rights of Texans.”

The attorney general's lawsuit is intended to force Waller County, roughly 55 miles west of Houston, to comply with Texas' open carry laws, which means guns must be allowed in Waller County Courthouse. The county issued a ban on licensed gun carriers from bringing fire arms into the Waller County Courthouse, which prompted the gun rights group Texas Carry Executive Director Terry Holcomb to file a complaint. Holcomb's complaint maintained the gun ban should extend to individual courtrooms, not the entire Waller County Courthouse.

Waller County responded with its own lawsuit against Holcomb, asking for a declaratory judgment affirming the county's right to ban guns from the entire courthouse, according to various court documents. Holcomb responded to that by filing a complaint with Paxton's office. After some back and forth with county officials, the state attorney general's office has stepped into fray with its own lawsuit against the county.

"Waller County cannot simply decide that state law does not apply within its borders," the attorney general's lawsuit said. "Section 46.03(a)(3) of the Penal Code does not allow a political subdivision of the state to prohibit licensed handgun holders from entering into an entire building simply because the courts or the offices of the courts are located in a portion of that multipurpose building," the lawsuit said. "Yet, the county prohibits by its signage licensed handgun holders from entering the building at all. The county is in violation of the Government Code in these respects."

The attorney general's office asked the court issue a writ of mandamus, or order, against Waller County and its officials to force compliance with Texas law. Paxton's office also is asking for civil penalties of $1,500 per day the county is in violation of Texas law, starting Monday, Aug. 29, the day the case was filed.

Texas’ licensed carry laws do allow governmental entities to exclude handguns from portions of a building used as a court, the statement issued by Paxton's office said.

"Attorney General Paxton’s lawsuit explains that county treasurers’ offices and county elections’ offices do not qualify as offices utilized by a government court," the statement said. "The attorney general recently filed a similar lawsuit against the city of Austin seeking compliance where Austin claims that its city hall is a government court."

While it's not unusual for attorneys general to announce work done by their offices, including lawsuits filed, Paxton has been accused of using the work of his office to distract attention away from his own legal difficulties. On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Paxton did not properly appeal his three criminal indictments and he will need to try again.

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