Fall River County Commissioners apparently live in fear of violence. On a 3–2 vote at their March 21 meeting, the commission voted to “allow citizens and county employees to legally carry firearms and other weapons in the courthouse, except in the courtroom on days when court is in session.”
SDCL 22-14-23 makes possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon (like rapier wit?) in courthouses a Class 1 misdemeanor (with expections in SDCL 22-14-24 for judges and law enforcement). However, SDCL 22-14-28 allows county commissions to waive that prohibition.
The public comments by the Fall River County Commission don’t inspire my confidence in their packing heat:
“This is still the West,” Commissioner Joe Falkenburg said. “But I wonder how people feel. I talked to Sue (Ganje, county auditor) and she’s not enthused about having a pistol under the counter. We’d be one of the few counties that don’t have this. We have a panic button, but I feel most protected when I have my six-gun” [John D. Taylor, “Fall River Commissioners Approve Weapons in Courthouse,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.03.29].
As a citizen, I feel less protected when I go to a public meeting to discuss important issues and face an elected official carrying a gun.
Building supervisor Lyle Jensen and Commissioner Deb Russell suggested the county participate in an active shooter training program offered by the Hot Springs School District, but Commissioner Falkenburg stuck to his guns:
Jensen said the training would be interactive and participants would be taught ways to thwart an active shooter, including by throwing objects such as books at the shooter.
“That’d be bringing a book to a gunfight,” Falkenburg countered. “Will they remember the training? I’d be more inclined to go to the gun” [Taylor, 2017.03.29].
Hmm… if you aren’t going to remember anti-shooter training, are you going to remember to switch off your safety?
Taylor’s coverage is unclear on how openly the commission discussed this bang-up ordinance:
Fall River County State’s Attorney Jim Sword said the board took the action during a March 21 commission meeting after a series of executive sessions, which are closed to the public.
…After the meeting, Sword said that since no one from the public was able to comment on the courthouse weapons measure, it would be discussed again at the next commissioners meeting on April 4 [Taylor, 2017.03.29].
An earlier version of Taylor’s report states that a resident from the audience did make a comment during discussion of the weapons measure. That earlier version also reports Sword’s statement differently:
However, Sword said after the meeting that the courthouse weapon issue will be brought up again at the next commissioners meeting, since no one from the public was there to voice an opinion on this to the commissioners [John D. Taylor, “Commissioners Approve Weapons in Courthouse,” RCJ/Hot Springs Star, 2017.03.28].
There appears to be no open meetings violation here. But the Fall River County Commission is inviting open season in the halls of its courthouse. Avid hunter and journalist Kevin Woster plans to test out the new “Bring your gun to the courthouse” rule:
As soon as the looser rule takes effect, I’m heading down that way to fish Angostura. But first I’m going to make a stop at the courthouse, stroll in with my SKB over-under 20 gauge (I don’t own a handgun, but I assume a firearm is a firearm) and snap a selfie somewhere in the courthouse, at a location of my choice.
(I’m not sure if the rule will allow me on the other side of the counter, say at the Auditor’s Office. But Sue Ganje and I have always gotten along well, so … initially I had a typo that said Sue and I had gotten ‘alone’ well, but my wife objected. I’m guessing Sue did, too…)
Anyway, I’ll then post the selfie here.
I’m already feeling a little giddy at the thought of exercising my Second Amendment rights in a public facility. I might even bring doughnuts [Kevin Woster, public Facebook post, 2017.03.29].
Public officials’ insistence that they need to carry guns to protect themselves could provoke journalists covering their meetings to do the same thing. I’d like to think that a few liberal journalists carrying guns into public meetings at places like the Fall River County Commission room could make elected officials rethink any loosening of gun restrictions.
But I won’t test that resolve. I won’t carry a gun unless I expect to do some shooting. If any of my elected officials choose to carry weapons in the halls of democracy, I’ll stick with staring them down with my camera, my pen, and my commitment to civil discourse… which may pose a greater risk to the powers that be than any armed bogeymen.
History Challenge: I invite readers to submit examples of armed mayhem in South Dakota courthouses. One notable incident occurred on September 25, 1967, when Judge Tom Parker took a shot to the abdomen but still subdued a gunman in his Pennington County courtroom by throwing his chair and tackling the shooter.