AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin was violating state law when it banned gun owners from carrying firearms into city hall, according to a ruling from a Travis County District Court.
In 2015, the Texas legislature passed HB 910, known as “open carry”, a law allowing licensed gun owners in Texas to carry more places and openly if they chose to do so.
The City of Austin posted signs letting Texans know their guns were not welcome. Those signs are now illegal.
Owner of Central Texas Gun Works, Michael Cargill, walked into Austin City Hall Thursday with his handgun on his hip. He has a license to carry.
“I’m actually very surprised that within hours after the judge handing down that ruling, the City of Austin is actually complying,” said Cargill.
City of Austin opposed the law in the legislature. When the bill passed city leaders created a policy banning guns in city hall under the “government court” exception. Parts of the city hall building acts as a government court certain days of the week. Austin attorneys argued it was a legal exception because the people working in the court have offices in the building.
The state of Texas, led by Attorney General Ken Paxton, disagreed.
The District Court fined the city $9,000, siding with the state.
City attorneys have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court but a city spokesman tells KXAN they will still try and limit firearms where they can.
“We are disappointed because City Hall is a multifunctional building that is at times a court facility, a polling place, a location for education activites and the location of City Council meetings, all of which meet the state legislature’s conditions for restricting the carrying of handguns,” a city spokesperson wrote to KXAN, “Consistent with the Court’s order, we will continue to ban handguns from City Hall during those times when the legislature’s limitations allow.”
City Council members react
“For the people who work here, day in and day out, it’s important for them to feel safe,” said City Council Member Kathie Tovo.
She hoped the city will file an appeal to challenge the ruling.
“I would certainly feel safe knowing that there are not handguns on the premises unles they’re in the hands of our public safety officers,” Tovo said.
Council Member Leslie Pool also said she’s disappointed with Thursday’s announcement. She worried if a shooting were to happen, “They don’t know who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and I don’t know how you know.”
She said the ruling also raises some questions.
“Does that mean we’ll have sensors in front of every doorway?” she said. “Instead of just at the entrances. I just don’t know.”
KXAN asked city officials on the days City Hall is being used as a polling place or courtroom, or when there’s a council meeting or an educational activity if the ban will apply only to the room where those activities are taking place or to the entire building.
They said they couldn’t answer that question at this time.
Ed Scruggs with Texas Gun Sense also raised more questions.
“What steps is the city prepared to take to increase public safety and security because they’ll have to take some,” he said. “Right now contract security is not armed. Will they be armed?”
He believes the state law should change.
“It’s a one size fits all situation,” Scruggs said. “It doesn’t take into account the standards of the community, and also design and safety issues of the individual building.”
Cargill said, however, “We do this at the Texas State Capitol. License holders can carry at the Texas state capitol. You have two different lines there. So if it works for the Capitol where your most heated debates take place, it can work for the city of Austin.”