CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
HORSESHOE BAY — As the open carry law takes hold in the state of Texas, local public entities have grappled with whether to allow firearms in their buildings to address what they perceive as gaps in the statute.
Horseshoe Bay City Council and Burnet County officials approved policies that address how the legislation would apply to city hall chambers that double as courtrooms and courthouse buildings in the north and south end of the counties.
The legislature has detailed restrictions in Texas Penal Code 30.06 referencing concealed carry and now Texas Penal Code 30.07, which addresses open carry.
Among them, open and concealed carry of handguns is prohibited in courtrooms and offices used by the court.
Public entities are required by law to post signs displaying the codes to inform the public of the prohibition in those particular locations.
However, in the case of Horseshoe Bay, the council meeting room serves as a municipal courtroom once a month, which, officials said, left the question unanswered as to whether a sign should be permanently posted.
On Jan. 19, the council addressed the issue in a split vote.
“We voted not to display the signs during council,” Mayor Pro Tem Craig Haydon said. “We do have court there once a month, and when we do have court, they will bring out the signs and post them there at city hall.
“Horseshoe Bay is a little different, and we approach things with a bit more of a small community mindset,” he added.
Haydon along with council members Jerry Gray and David Pope voted not to display the signs at city hall during city council meetings but to post them when court is in session.
Councilwoman Cynthia Clinesmith abstained.
Councilman Reagan Lambert voted for the display of the signs but added he would have liked to vote on a caveat to allow “concealed” but not “open” carry during council meetings.
“My thought was to compromise and allow concealed weapons but to prohibit open carry, long rifles and other long guns,” Lambert said. “People that come to council meetings, a lot of times, there’s already contention and anger, and I think displaying (firearms) can add to that in a negative way.
“I think people that come just to listen or maybe make a comment or a statement, it could make them more nervous or anxious and make them not want to come to the meetings,” he added.
Those who voted against the signs during city council meetings cited police presence among reasons to allow residents to carry firearms at meetings.
“The police chief and assistant chief are always there, and, of course, they’re armed, so we didn’t feel the necessity to post those signs outside our city hall,” Haydon said. “Some of the community had voiced that it was a Second Amendment issue with them. They felt like if the state had awarded them the right to carry then that’s what they wanted to do.”
In Burnet County, officials believed too many offices integrated in one building hastened the need to ban firearms throughout facilities that share both court and non-court functions.
“Burnet County along with several other counties have taken the position — until that’s further defined — that no weapons will be allowed in the building, just as it has been,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley said.
Oakley said he is an advocate for both concealed and open carry but believes the legislature should consider more detail in the law.
“The law that was passed did not consider buildings that have multiple uses, i.e., where you have courtrooms and non-judicial offices,” Oakley said. “The law is such that you cannot carry weapons into courtrooms, judge chambers, county and district clerk’s offices. But what happens whenever you have those offices intermixed with other offices where it is not prohibited?”
He cited safety of judicial officials as tantamount to the “vague” nature of the statute.
“We’ll maintain the law as it has been where no weapons are allowed in the courthouse as well as the annexes, where there are (justice of the peace) courtrooms or other functions of the judiciary,” Oakley said. “I do hope in this next legislative session that they will re-look at this.”