East Texas sheriff opposes extending open carry to courthouses

East Texas sheriff opposes extending open carry to courthouses
Penal Code 30.06 notice. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Penal Code 30.06 notice. (Source: KLTV Staff)

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - With the Open Carry Act effective date only one month away, some East Texas government buildings are preparing for the upcoming changes to their weapons policies.  Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith urged commissioners on Tuesday to approve posting Penal Code section 30.06 "no weapons" signs on the Smith County courthouse after January 1.

"[We should] prohibit open or concealed carry into the courthouse and other facilities that have a court," said Smith. "For the safety of the public with all the inmates that we carry through the tunnel to the courthouse every day..."

In an October memo by Governor Greg Abbott to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbot claims that any signs prohibiting gun carriers from entering a place owned by a government entity is unlawful.

Paxton has not yet rendered an opinion on the issue, despite pending requests from Hays County and Tom Green county.

Smith County Commissioner Terry Phillips wants to wait until Paxton makes a decision.

"According to the governor, in my opinion, you can't place these signs on the front door of the courthouse," said Phillips.  "It has to be on individual courts and court offices. "

Abbott's memo says a multi-purpose building is not a "court."   If a courthouse has other functions like an auditor's office, gun restrictions under the Open Carry Act will not apply, according to the memo.

Phillips also voiced concerns that posting improper signs could open the county up to lawsuits.

"I have been to meetings where they've said that if you see signs posted illegally," said Phillips. "Take a picture and send them to us and they'll see about filing a suit.  There's people out there all the time looking for ways to sue."

Phillip Smith, assistant district attorney in Smith County, said the fine for the first offense of the sign restriction is $1,000 and $10,000 after that.

"You gotta stand up for something sometime," Larry Smith said in response to lawsuit concerns. "And I think that would be something we can stand up for, is the safety and security of the citizens of Smith County.

Smith County Commissioner Jeff Warr said he is for gun rights and open carry, but he expects the board of commissioners to err on the side of safety.

"I'm not concerned about the law abiding citizen who has a right to carry," said Warr. ""I'm concerned about the volatility in a courtroom spilling over and taking the gun away from somebody; it happens even with law enforcement that's trained."

The three attending commissioners tabled the signs issue until their next meeting when more commissioners are expected to be present.

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