Attorney General says gun restriction signs in courthouse illega - FOX 8, WVUE, fox8live.com, weather, app, news, saints

Attorney General says gun restriction signs in courthouse illegal

The state attorney general's office says this sign by Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson that doesn't accommodate enhanced conceal carry license holders is illegal. (Photo Source: WLOX) The state attorney general's office says this sign by Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson that doesn't accommodate enhanced conceal carry license holders is illegal. (Photo Source: WLOX)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

The fight over enhanced conceal carry rights in courthouses is getting bigger.

Now, the State Attorney General’s office has sent Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson a warning. The signs he has posted at the Harrison County Courthouse concerning firearms are illegal, and they must come down or change in 30 days.

"In order to conform with the law, their sign has to say you can't carry a weapon, except for those individuals who have enhanced carry,” said Tom Payne, who represented the complainant in the case presented to the state Supreme Court.

In June, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that judges can’t restrict conceal carrying at courthouses. It said the move infringed on a 2011 law creating the enhanced concealed-carry license that allowed those with the license to carry anywhere, including courthouses.

Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson, who was not available for an on-camera interview, has joined a request for reconsideration, saying dangerous weapons should not be allowed in any areas around or near the courtrooms.

He told WLOX News Now that he and the board of supervisors filed a brief supporting the prohibition of guns in Harrison County courthouses because of their unique facilities.

Payne said that’s just something Peterson will have to deal with. “He may have to take extra steps,” Payne said. “But he has to follow the law.”

In a written statement, Peterson said attorneys for both the sheriff’s office and the county “are reviewing the Attorney General's notice and “will timely respond.”

Payne said the decision should be obvious. “The constitution of the state of Mississippi has said that only the Legislature has the right to control concealed carry,” he said. “And, therefore, if the Legislature says you can do it, and somebody’s trying to prevent that, then it’s a violation of the constitution.”

The office of Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner is on the second floor of the courthouse. And Ladner is worried. “I’m all for federal and state law, which gives us right to bear arms,” she said. “However, in the circumstance of a courthouse, courtroom, where ... tempers may flare ... it is a circumstance that in my opinion, gives us cause to be concerned.”

Payne said there should be nothing to fear. “These are law abiding individuals who have taken the time to be trained, who have taken the time to have their background checked, who have taken the time follow the law in all respects,” he said. “And now they expect the law to be followed by others.”

After the 30-day notice is up, Payne said Peterson could be personally sued in order to comply. The law doesn’t allow enhanced carry license holders to enter into courtrooms while in session. Peterson said a long-standing court order considers areas in and around the courtrooms either entrances or part of the courtrooms.

Below is Sheriff Peterson’s complete response:

The Mississippi Attorney General has recently issued an opinion regarding the current signage at the Harrison County Courthouses.  The signs posted at our courthouses do not allow weapons, to include guns and knives, beyond the security check points at these facilities.

There are certain exclusions in the carry permit and enhanced carry permit firearm laws in our State that prohibit firearms in courthouses, law enforcement agencies and detention and jail facilities. 

The Harrison County Courthouses are unique facilities and include courtrooms, public meeting rooms, local governmental offices, law enforcement offices and detention facilities.

I am a supporter of the rights of the Harrison County citizens to own and bear arms.  The courthouses in Harrison County are places that deal with significant criminal and civil matters that become very heated and often become so emotionally involved that requires deputies, bailiffs and other department employees working at the courthouses have to get involved to maintain law and order.

The Judges and Deputies at our courthouses are faced with tough decisions which result in litigants and family members becoming upset with other litigants, attorneys, court staff and judges to the point that safety issues are common place.

As a result of this unique environment, it is my opinion that dangerous weapons should not be allowed in the areas of the courtrooms, hallways, Sheriff's Offices, District Attorney's Office, Clerk's and court staff offices which are located beyond security checkpoints.

This policy has been in place at the Harrison County Courthouses for many years. There is a Court Order from the Second Circuit Court District of Mississippi, the 8th Chancery Court District of Mississippi and the County Court of Harrison County, Mississippi signed by all of the Judges of Harrison County at that time which ordered that the courthouse lobbies, hallways, witness rooms, Judge's chambers and Clerk's offices would be deemed entrances into and/or part of the courtrooms.  That Order has not been vacated. 

The Mississippi Supreme Court has recently rendered an opinion with regard to this issue of guns in Courthouses. It is for Lowdnes County only.

It remains my understanding that this recent opinion has not been mandated and there are requests for reconsideration of this ruling.  I have, along with the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, filed a brief supporting the prohibition of guns, beyond the security checkpoints, in the Harrison County courthouses because of our unique facilities which have public meeting areas, courtrooms, law enforcement offices and detainment facilities.

The recent Attorney General's opinion dated July 18, 2018, advises that it is in the opinion of Deputy Attorney General Whittley that the current signage at the Harrison County courthouses prohibiting firearms beyond the security checkpoint are in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated 45-9-53(4).  The attorneys for the Harrison County Sheriff's Office and Harrison County, Mississippi are reviewing the Attorney General's notice and will timely respond. 

As the Sheriff of Harrison County, I have no intentions of violating any laws of our State.  It is my intent to look after the safety of our citizens that are required to conduct business at our courthouses and litigants, along with their attorneys, court staff, Sheriff Deputies, and Judges that work there.

Copyright 2018 WLOX. All rights reserved. 

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