Guest editorial: Clarify the law on guns in court facilities

Lee’s note: This editorial was published today in my newspaper. It makes some great points about this longstanding constitutional impasse between the sheriff and the chief judge, which has statewide ramifications.

In my humble opinion, the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal erred in their recent decision because they didn’t even address whether prohibiting firearms from court facilities — buildings without actual courtrooms operated by the courts — violated Florida’s powerful preemption statute. The potential violation of Florida statute 790.06 never even got a mention in Florida 2DCA’s opinion!

Editorial: Clarify law on guns in court facilities

Posted Dec 28, 2017 at 4:31 PM
Updated Dec 28, 2017 at 4:31 PM

An appellate court ruling ended one argument involving concealed weapons and
security — centered in Sarasota County but applicable across Florida — yet showed the
need for greater clarity in state law.

A three-judge panel for the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday against
Sheriff Tom Knight, who sought relief from a local court order that put him and his
deputies between a rock and a hard place.

Although the ruling was unanimous and shot down the points made by Knight’s legal
team, the lawsuit was not superfluous. There were serious matters of law and liability
at stake — and they warranted consideration by an independent, higher court.

The source of the dispute was an administrative order issued March 2 by Charles
Williams, who serves as chief judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit (Sarasota, Manatee and
DeSoto counties). Williams’ order essentially told Knight to return to the longtime
practice of providing security — including checks for weapons — at “court facilities”
that include Sarasota’s “Historic Courthouse” and the offices of the elected clerk of the
court.

Knight had pulled his security teams from those facilities after state Sen. Greg Steube, a
Sarasota Republican, complained that he was denied access to the renovated Historic
Courthouse — where trials are seldom, if ever, held — because, of course, he was
carrying his permitted concealed weapon.

Steube, a zealous proponent of expanding the areas where Floridians with concealedcarry
licenses can take their weapons, argued that the denial of his access violated state
statute 790.06.

That law specifically prohibits most individuals, except for those in law enforcement,
from taking guns into “any courthouse” or “any courtroom.” The statute also bans
concealed weapons in other specific buildings where meetings of governing bodies and
the Legislature are conducted.

Nevertheless, Steube argued to the sheriff that he should not have been denied entry to
“government buildings” such as the Historic Courthouse.

Knight and his executives reviewed their policies and concluded that enforcing Judge
Williams’ order outside courtrooms and the functioning courthouse would expose
them to personal liabilities for violating the gun-friendly statute 790.06.

Their concerns were valid, and warranted the lawsuit and independent consideration,
which the appeals court appropriately decided to provide. Williams also decided,
properly, not to enforce his order with sanctions until the case was decided.

In its ruling, the 2nd District panel said without doubt that Williams had the authority
to order Knight, an “officer of the court,” to provide security at “court facilities” as
directed. The judges stated that, while judicial administrative rules do not explicitly
define “court facilities,” state law 29.008 “provides guidance” indicating that the
definition is wide-ranging and would include court-related functions of the clerk and
other participants in the justice system.

The rule and the law should be clearer, however, so that there is no doubt about what
constitutes court facilities. Specifically, the Legislature should broaden the wording in
the concealed-weapons law so that it includes “court facilities” as defined in section
29.008. In the concealed-weapons statute, “any courthouse” and “any courtroom” are
too limited, as this legal dispute made evident.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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