LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A letter has been sent to Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter requesting signs banning firearms inside the courthouse be taken down from the front doorway.
The letter was sent by Executive Director Terry Holcomb of Texas Carry. Holcomb is based out of Coldspring but is currently assisting gun owners in over 20 areas across the state ranging from Lufkin to Odessa. The letter states if not taken down, a complaint will be sent to the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton and possible fines could be handed down.
"We are talking about the most law abiding demographic in the state of Texas," Holcomb said. "We do not need a sign to tell us we cannot carry into a court room. What we need is to be able to go into a multi-purpose building and handle what we need to. The courthouse will be safer with us in there."
Holcomb said his request is to move the signs that make reference to section 46.03 of the Texas penal code which prohibits CHL/LTC holders from entering.
"46.03 (f) Except as provided by Subsection (e-1), it is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor possessed a handgun and was licensed to carry a concealed handgun under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code" makes this sign an unlawful posting preventing CHL/LTC holders from entering and is actionable under Texas Government Code §411.209," Holcomb stated in his letter.
Holcomb said he is representing a concerned citizen of the county. Holcomb said what they are asking is for the county to move the signs off the door and place them inside the building on the metal detector in the lobby. Holcomb said by doing this, it would allow for people who can open carry to be able to do so in the county clerk's office but not in the court room area.
Holcomb first addressed the county on the matter in the Feb. 23 commissioners' court meeting. Holcomb notified the court that if the ruling by them to not allow guns at all was passed he would file a complaint. Holcomb said he has waited because he has filed almost 70 complaints to the attorney general's office so far for other areas and he was trying to see if the county would ever respond to any request.
"I don't think this county is willing to sit down and have a legitimate conversation," Holcomb said.
County Attorney Ed Jones said he could not comment on the letter since he had not seen it yet. Jones said the county has taken a stance that the county clerk's office is an office that is used by the courts and that it should be covered under the law of keeping guns out of court rooms or court related offices.
Suiter said the letter took him by surprise.
"I was shocked when I heard of the letter being sent to me," Suiter said. "I am in Austin right now and will not be back until Wednesday night, so I have not seen it yet. It was my understanding after the commissioner's court meeting we were okay. The way I understood it, after the meeting he visited with our sheriff and looked around the courthouse and said that in fact our courthouse was protected."
Suiter said the county is aware of the unhappy citizen.
"A few months ago we received notice from the attorney general's office that a complaint was sent in against us," Suiter said. "I responded with a letter explaining our side and why we have deemed the county clerk's office as an office used by the court. I just don't want to start confusing the community by putting them up taking them down, putting them up taking them down. We just need to respond in the appropriate manner to what the determination is from the AG office. We will wait for what they tell us."
Suiter said other county offices in other buildings do not fall under the exemption and have no signs posted.
"People can openly carry at the annex except for inside the county commissioners' court room or the hall outside of the room whenever there is a meeting going on. We can't stop it there so we don't."
Holcomb said he would be willing to work with the county but has given them a three day response time.
"I work with governments because I know it does take longer," Holcomb said. "I would be willing to talk to them. I am always available by phone. On my way up here to talk to you, I got on the phone with four different towns asking to work with us. The plan is to come up here on Friday and check on progress. I don't think that sign is coming down."
The full letter can be read here.