Ken Paxton Sues Austin
AG wants City Hall to comply with open carry
By Chase Hoffberger,
4:36PM, Thu. Jul. 28, 2016
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton executed the inevitable late in the afternoon on Wednesday, filing a lawsuit in the 53rd District Court of Travis County against the city of Austin, Mayor Steve Adler, and each member of the City Council.
The reason: The AG’s upset that city officials have chosen to bar the open carry of handguns inside of City Hall.
The suit contends that the city of Austin stands in violation of Texas Government Code 411.209 (the statute that prohibits state agencies and political subdivisions from prohibiting licensed holders from openly carrying on its premises). It arrives nearly 11 months after Michael Cargill, a former Council candidate and owner of Central Texas Gun Works, filed a complaint with Paxton’s office alleging that the city violated the aforementioned statute when it hung a “30.07” sign (those ever-increasingly present signs saying that you can’t open carry on a particular premise) on the front doors of City Hall.
At the time, city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo told the Chronicle the city had precedent to ignore the 411.209 statute because City Hall houses the meetings of Council, most boards and commissions, and certain hearings by the Downtown Community Court. Texas Penal Code, Sec. 46.03 bans guns from “the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court.”
Paxton dropped Cargill’s complaint on March 30 after learning that city officials had removed the 30.07 signage, but reopened investigation in early April when the city doubled down on its stance with a permanent glass sign barring open carry. Paxton also writes that “oral warnings prohibiting the carry of handguns” were issued to individuals at City Hall.
On June 16, the city responded to a letter Paxton had sent to officials two months earlier saying that it believed Austin’s stance on guns at City Hall stood in concert with the bylaws laid out in Texas Penal Code, Sec 46.03 but, as Paxton writes, “provided no authority for its assertion that Austin City Hall is a government court.” The AG sent a final notice of violation on July 5, giving the city 15 days to welcome guns inside its central building. That hasn’t happened, so now Paxton’s filed this suit.
In addition to a general request that the court order the city to allow guns inside of City Hall, Paxton also seeks a fine of $1,500 for every day after Mon., July 25, that the city’s in violation of the statute.
Paxton’s full petition is available online here. A city spokesperson called the city’s position “consistent,” in a statement to the Chronicle, reiterating that it’s a crime to carry a handgun in a court or in offices used by a court. “Because the City of Austin Municipal Court conducts court proceedings in the Austin City Hall building and maintains office space for court personnel we believe state law prohibits possessing or carrying a weapon in City Hall (except by law enforcement personnel),” the statement continued. “We are prepared to defend this lawsuit and look forward to having this matter resolved by a court.”
This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly listed the penal code for open carry as 30.06.