By Dean Weingarten | GunWatch
Recently re-elected in November, 2018, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is taking scofflaw counties and cities to court. The subordinate government entities refuse to conform to a reform of Texas gun law.
In 2015, the Texas government passed an open carry statute. The statute went in effect on 1 January, 2016.
Part of the statute was to prohibit subordinate units of Texas government, such as cities and counties, from infringing on the carry rights of legally armed Texans.
Specifically, the number of official “gun free zones” were reduced. Gun free zones were generally forbidden in government buildings. There were exemptions, including for courts and offices used by courts. From capital.texas.gov:
(3) on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court, unless pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the court;
In December of 2015, before the statute went into effect, the cities of St. Angelo and St. Marcos asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue an opinion on the new law. In the statute, premises are defined as a building or part of a building.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, when asked to clarify what “premises” of the court meant, issued a thoughtful opinion which stated it meant the courtroom and other offices of the court used for specific court functions.
Paxton further clarified the opinion, explaining what would be an offense with signage that did not conform with the Texas Statutes. Both opinions were issued in December of 2015.
In 2016, a private citizen wrote to Waller County, asking them to take down their signs. They said if they would not, they would refer the county to the Attorney General. Waller county responded with a lawsuit against the private citizen, for exercising their right to petition the government. That lawsuit was eventually settled on behalf of the citizen. The Texas Appeals court squashed the lawsuit and ordered the District Court to reverse and require the County to pay lawyers fees and other costs. The County appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, just a few months ago.
In 2016, as provided for in Texas law, other private citizens had asked AG Paxton to determine if several cities and counties were violating the statute. Several cites refused to abide by the AG’s findings. They were sued to conform with the law.
Now that the Waller case has been rejected by the Supreme Court, the other cases are coming to a head.
Paxton is proceeding with the cases against subordinate government entities. In 2019, the AG office made the case that Austin should pay the $750,000 of fines that have accumulated since 2016.
On 10 January, 2019, the Texas AG office issue this statement. From texasattorneygeneral.gov:
The city of Austin cannot defy Texas’ licensed carry laws, or any state law enacted by the Texas Legislature, simply because it disagrees with the law or feels like ignoring it,” Attorney General Paxton said. “I will always vigilantly protect and preserve the Second Amendment rights of Texans, and I’m hopeful the Travis County district court will uphold Texas’ open carry law passed by the people’s representatives.
In July 2016, Attorney General Paxton filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin after a resident with a concealed gun permit complained of being turned away from City Hall on several occasions. Under Texas law, the city of Austin can be fined $1,500 a day for more than 500 days during which the city has barred citizens with a handgun license from bringing handguns into City Hall since the lawsuit was filed. The attorney general’s legal team asked the Travis County district court to impose a total fine of over $750,000.
Any one of these cases will likely set precedent. The Waller county case that was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court did not address the definition of “premises” that is the crux of the scofflaw government’s argument. The case against Austin seems most advanced.
The idea that only actual courts, being used as courts, can ban guns in a government complex, is a rational interpretation of the law.
It may be months before the Texas court rules on the Austin case. It is likely to be appealed.
Update: The court has ruled, fining Austin $9,000, for banning gun carry on days the court in the municipal complex was not in session. The case may be appealed.