August 26, 2008
Pistol-packing DAs

Here's a nice little can of worms.

Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson has asked the state's top lawyer if he can legally stop his assistants from taking handguns into courtrooms despite a new law removing most restrictions on where prosecutors with gun licenses can carry their weapons.

Magidson requires members of his staff, even those with concealed handgun licenses, to obtain his permission, as a condition of employment, before they can carry a firearm into a court.

He is seeking Attorney General Greg Abbott's opinion on whether he can continue his policy, despite a 2007 law that allows prosecutors with handgun licenses to pack their pistols anywhere except jails or prisons. They also are prohibited from carrying while intoxicated.

Pet peeve time: I do not understand why, in the year 2008 when so many people will read this story online - something the Chron obviously encourages thanks to its and Digg and Technorati and Yahoo! Buzz links - the story does not include the relevant bill number and Texas statute information. Why not provide that information, so the readers may look up the bill and statute in question and see for themselves what they say and what they think about DA Magidson's actions? You might even include the links in the online version of the story, because once you have those pieces of information, it's only a small extra step to take. Why wouldn't you want to do this?

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will tell you that as far as I can determine from searching the Texas Legislature Online, the relevant bill was HB2300, which amended Section 46.15 of the Penal Code to exempt "an assistant district attorney, assistant criminal district attorney, or assistant county attorney who is licensed to carry a concealed handgun under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code" from the prohibition in Section 46.03 against possessing a firearm "on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court, unless pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the court". Note that "a district attorney, criminal district attorney, or county attorney" was already exempt from this prohibition - the new law merely extended that exemption to ADAs and the like.

Now that we're all clear on that, the question is whether or not a DA can implement, or in this case maintain, a policy of restricting ADAs from packing heat in the courtroom unless said ADA meets some kind of training standard. This seems a reasonable thing to me, but it won't shock me if AG Greg Abbott says no, the law doesn't allow for that. I'd be interested to know what any actual lawyers think of that.

And it would be interesting to know what the two people who hope to inherit the DA's office from Mr. Magidson think as well. He had said, upon taking over the office, that he expected to make "small changes" during his tenure. I don't know that this counts as such, but then it looks like he may have been forced to take some action. I may try to track down a response from C.O. Bradford and Pat Lykos; if I succeed, I'll add an update.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 26, 2008 to Crime and Punishment
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