Guns and the Courtroom

June 5, 2017 § 6 Comments

There is a significant case pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court that raises some important issues of public policy and safety, constitutionality, and separation of powers. You may wish to file an Amicus brief.

The case is Ward v. Colom, et al., no. 2016-M-01072. It is before the court on a petition seeking a writ of prohibition against the chancellors of the Fourteenth Chancery Court District. The chancellors had entered an order extending the courtrooms of their courthouses out to the entrances of the courthouses, with the effect that persons carrying firearms could not come within 200 feet of the courthouse entrances. The order applied to permitted persons as well as non-permitted persons.

Ward complains that he is an enhanced-carry permit-holder, and he was denied entry into one of the courthouses of the district with his firearm. He acknowledges that judges have the right by statute to restrict firearms from their courtrooms, but argues that the chancellors did not have the authority to extend the coverage of that authority in the way that they did. He asks the high court to void the order.

On April 26, 2017, the court, by Justice King, ordered briefing on the following issues:

1) What is the authority of judges to exercise control over security issues beyond the four walls of the courtroom itself?

2) Whether the judiciary has the inherent authority to exercise control of security extending beyond the four walls of a courtroom.

3) Whether Mississippi Code Section 97-3 7-7 (2) prohibits judges from controlling courthouse security. Specifically, what is the definition of “courtrooms during a judicial proceeding,” and does that definition either allow or prohibit judges from exercising control of security beyond the four walls of a specific courtroom while court is in session.

4) If Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7(2) does prohibit judges from exercising control over courthouse security, whether it violates the separation of powers doctrine.

The order specifically allows Amicus briefs within “fourteen days of the service of the responsive briefs.” That refers to the responsive briefs of the chancellors, which are due within thirty days of May 26, 2017. That means that Amicus briefs are due within 14 days of June 26.

I encourage chancery practitioners in particular to weigh in on this issue. For myself, I know that hard feelings can spill over to violence that is not limited to the courtroom. In a case here several years ago one of the parties and her attorney were fired upon as they left the courthouse after a nasty custody battle. They were outside on the steps to the south entrance. No one was hurt, thank goodness.

Whether to ban guns entirely as the chancellors did in the Fourteenth should be a judgment call by judges on the ground who are familiar with their courthouse situations, the types of cases that they handle, and the people who come before them. In our courthouses there is adequate, well-armed security. If they are ever called upon to draw their weapons to deal with a deadly situation, I would hope that they don’t have to stop to figure out which armed people are the “good guys.” That hesitation could be fatal.

§ 6 Responses to Guns and the Courtroom

  • […] Judge Primeaux wrote this week about a case pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court over whether judges can ban guns from their courtrooms. […]

  • randywallace says:

    While a supporter of 2A and the right to bear arms in general, I don’t have a problem with reasonable time, place and manner restrictions such as are common with 1A. The hallway outside a Chancery Courtroom where a person has just lost custody of a child, been adjudicated an unfit parent, etc. is not the place for unfettered access to a gun.

    The deputies in Hinds 1st District have a walk through metal detector and handhelds. They are able to keep weapons off the upper floors where court business is conducted, but cellphones sometimes make it through so one has to wonder. Unfortunately, many of the smaller and/or older county courthouses do not have that luxury. Some of those courthouses where I do business may not have any more than a deputy that asks people to sign in. In a couple of those courthouses, I have walked in and not seen a deputy until the judge walked into the courtroom.

    Keeping guns 200 feet away from the door is a bit of a stretch, but I have no problem with prohibiting guns inside the building. You certainly can’t walk around inside the MS Supreme Court or US District Court buildings with a gun.

  • fsspringer says:

    Is it not 2017? Is this really a question for the state Supreme Court to answer? Are people so scared, or so enraged, that they feel the need to carry guns into courthouses, unchallenged?

    Well, it is 2017, and yes, I guess that is the question. Oh, how I wish the question was why Mississippi will permit its people to carry a gun virtually anywhere with essentially no firearm training or exhibition of firearm competency or psychological stability.

    Judge, I recall some LE agencies putting some old Kevlar vests in patrol car doors to provide a little more cover from lead flying toward the officers. Maybe the same thing can be done to the inside of the Bench?

    • Larry says:

      I know of one courtroom not too far from mine where the judge piled old Southern Reporters up under the bench. I tried a case in that courtroom, and there was not much room to stretch out one’s legs.

    • Louis Walker says:

      The answer as to why Mississippi “allows” such a thing is because to keep and bear arms is a right that is specifically protected by the U.S. Constitution. If enough people disagree with that, the Constitution can be amended, but until then the government must have a compelling interest to apply restrictions, and those restrictions must be reasonable, directly related to the interest protected and no more than necessary to protect the interest. It is reasonable to restrict firearms where the business at hand is confrontation, because the is what the law administered in the courtroom involves, and the government provides adequate protection of the people required to attend those confrontations. It is not reasonable to restrict my ability to protect myself and my staff while in my office, or traveling back and forth to my vehicle from my office, when I am not afforded a full-time officer to guard me there.

  • Louis Walker says:

    We all know that much of the work of a Chancery attorney is done in the hallway, so I think weapons shouldn’t be allowed there when the court is in session, but extending to 200 feet from the door of the courthouse would come close to extending into my office in Hernando. It definitely would take in my parking space. I think any restrictions the judge makes should stop at the property line for the courthouse. I have no case law to support that opinion, but it is reasonable to not include my parking spot, or my office in the judges courtroom authority.

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