Packing Heat at City Hall?

Jury's still out on the legalities

Gun safety advocates opposing concealed carry at City Hall (photo by Jana Birchum)

The jury – or more precisely, the attorney general – is still out on whether concealed handguns can be carried into City Hall. Michael Cargill, former City Council candidate and owner of Central Texas Gun Works, has challenged the current ban on guns at City Hall. Initially, a couple of weeks ago, Cargill objected to the posted "30.06" signs (named for that section of the Texas Penal Code) that warn against those attempting to carry guns through the metal detectors, informing the city that the most recent Legislature had created new standards for signage. For the moment, the signs have come down, but city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo says guns are still not allowed in the building – although as far as he knows, only Cargill has formally challenged the ban.

Bencivengo says city attorneys are currently reviewing what signage might be necessary – revised 30.06 type or any other format – and that the law not only forbids guns at City Coun­cil and Board and Commission meetings, but since the building is also used regularly by the Downtown Community Court (which adjudicates public disorder violations), the ban extends to "the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court" (Texas Penal Code, Sec. 46.03). The city wants to avoid public confusion, says Bencivengo, and "we are currently considering what signage would be appropriate at City Hall for the purpose of notifying the visiting public what to expect, and this could eventually include a 'Section 30.06' sign. But the prohibition on bringing weapons into City Hall applies at all times regardless of the type of sign posted."

At Tuesday's Council work session, Council Member Don Zimmerman – without mentioning guns – questioned a staff member about how Downtown Community Court happens to hold sessions in City Hall, and was told that it was a decision made under a previous administration; Leslie Pool defended the practice as in keeping with the purpose of the public building. (Zimmerman had personally removed one of the 30.06 signs when Cargill initially challenged their use.)

Contacted later, Cargill said "the city is just wrong" about the law, and that is "not the Legislature's intent." He noted that the physical address of the court is not at City Hall, and that if a school or a church occasionally held a meeting there, "that would not make it a church or a school." Cargill said he has contacted Attorney General Ken Paxton's office, but does not know when the AG might respond. (According to reports elsewhere, Hays County is reviewing the same issue.)

Asked if he thought it a good idea to add guns to the occasionally volatile atmosphere at City Hall, Cargill said, "CHL holders are the most law-abiding citizens in the state of Texas, and are less likely to commit crimes than law enforcement officers. There are stats on that going back to 1990."

Presumably, we'll eventually learn whether City Hall will become one more public space made available to concealed weapons.

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City Hall, guns, Michael Cargill, Don Zimmerman, Bryce Bencivengo

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