Texas AG Sues Austin Over City Hall Ban on Guns

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Attorney General Ken Paxton says in a lawsuit that Austin is violating Texas’ open carry laws by banning handguns at its city hall.
     Paxton sued the city, Mayor Steve Adler, and the Austin City Council in Travis County Court on Wednesday.
     Section 411.209 of the Texas Government Code “prohibits state agencies and political subdivisions from wrongfully excluding handgun license holders from property owned or leased by the government,” according to the complaint.
     In September 2015, Paxton received a complaint that the city was violating the statute by its display of signage at the city hall building. The signage prohibited a person with a concealed handgun license from carrying a handgun on the premises.
     Paxton closed that complaint after the city removed the signage.
     On April 4, Paxton received another complaint from a citizen who said the city was in violation of Section 411.209. This was based on the city’s display of a permanent etched glass “no guns” sign, and oral warnings prohibiting the carrying of handguns on the premises of Austin City Hall.
     Paxton sent a letter on April 22 advising the city of the complaint regarding the handgun ban at the city hall, noting that the building does not fall within any exception under the state penal code.
     On June 16, the city replied to Paxton saying it believed the Austin City Hall fell within the government court exception set out in the penal code.
     But “the city provided no authority for its assertion that Austin City Hall is a government court,” says the complaint.
     Paxton then sent the city a final notice of violation on July 5, which gave the city 15 days “to cure the violation.” He informed the city it faced a civil penalty of $1,500 per day for each day of violation beginning on the sixteenth day after the issuance of the final notice.
     Paxton said in his final notice: “The city hall houses numerous non-judicial city administrative offices that are not identified as places where weapons are prohibited … Section 46.03(a)(3) of the Penal Code does not allow a political subdivision to prohibit licensed handgun holders from entering into an entire building simply because government courts or the offices of the courts are located in a portion of that multipurpose building. Consequently, the OAG has determined the signs at the entrance of the city hall, as well as the oral communications utilized by city hall security officers, are in violation of the Government Code.”
     The city has not cured the violation despite the threat of sanction from Paxton.
     The attorney general seeks a writ of mandamus to compel the city to comply with the state’s open carry laws.
     “I will always make sure that governments do not trample on the Second Amendment rights of Texans,” Paxton said in a statement released Thursday.
     A city spokesperson gave Courthouse News the following statement:
     “The city’s position has remained consistent. It is a criminal offense under Texas law to possess or carry a handgun on the premises of a government court or offices used by the 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). We are prepared to defend this lawsuit and look forward to having this matter resolved by a court.”
     John Langley is representing the AG’s office on behalf of the State of Texas.

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