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Upshur County to post signs prohibiting guns at several buildings

By Christina Lane
Dec. 15, 2015 at 10:24 a.m.
Updated Dec. 15, 2015 at 10:24 a.m.

Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd speaks Tuesday during an Uphsur County Commissioners meeting. During the meeting, the commissioners voted to post signs prohibiting guns at several county buildings. (Christina Lane/News-Journal photo)

GILMER — Most Upshur County buildings soon will bear signs stating that firearms or weapons of any kind are prohibited.

Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to post signs prohibiting weapons and guns — whether concealed or open carry — at all entrances to all county buildings that have a courtroom or are used by offices of the court. Those buildings are the Upshur County Courthouse, Justice Center, Rock Building, CID and Adult Probation Building and the Justice of the Peace Pct. 3 building.

The decision follows similar recent action taken by other governmental entities in preparation for the state’s open carry law, which takes effect Jan. 1.

Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd said the law does not change much for county offices because weapons are still and have been prohibited in courtrooms or offices used by the court. While the new state law allows open carry of handguns, Byrd said, it did not change the portion of Texas code that restricts firearms from the premises of government courts or offices, schools, polling places, racetracks, secured areas in airports or within 1,000 feet of an execution.

“We’re in a government courthouse with courtrooms and we’re in a building. This entire building would be covered under (the law),” he said.

Carrying firearms in other county facilities — including the library, tax office and Road and Bridge Building — is not covered by the law because those buildings are not used by the court, Byrd said. The library, which is used as an early voting location, would be a location where firearms are prohibited during voting, Byrd said. The legislation prohibits firearms at polling places.

While the county is not required to post signs stipulating that firearms are prohibited, the district attorney suggested commissioners do so in an effort to clarify the law for anyone in the public who might not know it.

“There is nothing that requires us to post a notice that firearms are prohibited by statute. ... But, there is also nothing that stops us from posting a sign,” Byrd said.

Sheriff Anthony Betterton agreed, saying he would like to see signs posted at all entrances to the aforementioned buildings.

“That protects everybody,” he said.

Unlike other commissioners courts, Upshur County did not vote to reaffirm the law, with commissioners saying they believed such action was unnecessary.

Gregg County commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to affirm the law and affirm that guns are still prohibited from such county buildings as the courthouse. Gregg County Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo voted against reaffirming the longstanding practice, calling it a potential “overreach” of government.

Byrd referenced a memo issued by Gov. Greg Abbott to Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting a clear definition of “premises,” and he said handguns eventually might be allowed inside the courthouse building, just not a courtroom itself.

Abbott sent a letter to Paxton saying his position is that “premises” should be defined as anywhere in a building except in the courtroom itself.

“The governor’s position is that in a multi-purpose building, the new law would allow you to carry a firearm — concealed or open — to the door of a courtroom. One step outside the courtroom and you’re fine, but one step inside the courtroom and you’re violating the law,” Byrd said.

The attorney general has not issued an opinion on the subject, but Byrd also noted that attorney general opinions are not law.

Byrd said a higher court would have to rule on the matter or the Legislature would have to clarify the law during its next session.

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