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.