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Despite increased security at courthouses following shootings in Chicago and Atlanta about one year ago, many judges are bringing their own guns into their courtrooms for protection. Earlier this month, a Florida judge was ordered to accept mentoring after warning a defense attorney that he was “locked and loaded.” In May, a judicial ethics committee of the New York State Unified Court System found that it was ethical for a judge to carry a pistol into his courtroom. In Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas, incidences of violence in the past year have prompted new laws or solidified rules allowing judges to bring guns into courtrooms. “Judges in our courthouse have been carrying guns almost all the time,” said Cynthia Stevens Kent, a Texas judge in the 114th District Court, where a man in a family law case killed his ex-wife and son last year on the steps of a Tyler courthouse. “We feel strongly about providing adequate security, but it comes down to personal responsibility. And you’ve got to take responsibility for your own safety,” Kent said. Security concerns were raised last year after a rape suspect grabbed a deputy’s gun and killed an Atlanta judge and others. One month earlier, a litigant had killed the husband and mother of a Chicago federal judge who ruled against him. Covering the doorway Some states allow judges to arm themselves. In June, a man shot the Nevada judge overseeing his divorce case through the window of his courtroom. Chuck Weller, a judge in the Nevada 2d Judicial District Court in Reno, who survived the incident, said that judges in Nevada are allowed to carry weapons into the courtroom if they obtain permission from the chief judge. He declined to say whether he keeps a gun in his courtroom, but noted, “I’m not opposed to it at all. The culture in the community I live accepts firearms.” The shooting prompted U.S. Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., to introduce legislation to enhance security at both state and federal courthouses. In another recent incident, Oklahoma District Judge P. Thomas Thornbrugh said he grabbed his gun from his chambers after he heard a loud slam against the wall and shouts for help. He said he knew deputies were taking a prisoner to a nearby bathroom. “I thought the deputies were being overcome by this prisoner, and their service weapons would be taken,” said Thornbrugh, recalling the Atlanta incident. “There were no other deputies around, so I got a pistol out of my desk and covered the doorway until the other deputies arrived.” The scuffle prompted the Oklahoma House of Representatives to pass a bill in March that would allow district judges to have guns in the courthouse. Current law is unclear. The bill died before reaching the state Senate, but state Representative Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, who introduced the bill, said he plans to try again next year. In Texas, which permits state judges to carry concealed handguns into courtrooms, a new law became effective that expands that right to include federal judges and district attorneys. The law followed the Tyler shooting. “We believe each judge should be able to make sure he has a system of self-defense,” said Kent, who wears a shoulder harness and carries a gun at all times. “One of our biggest areas of target is when we’re in the court making decisions.” Fighting gun bans In May, New York’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics issued an opinion that found it ethical for a judge to carry a pistol while on the bench. In Florida, where Bay County Judge Michael Hauversburk recently threatened a defense attorney with his handgun, state law permits concealed weapons. But a bill that died last year would have specifically allowed judges to bring concealed firearms into courtrooms. Similar bills were introduced and failed last year in North Carolina and Illinois. On Jan. 1, Kansas plans to permit judges and whomever they designate to carry concealed firearms in the courtroom. Phillip Journey, the state senator who authored the bill and a practicing attorney, said he spent a decade seeking to overturn a blanket prohibition on firearms in the courthouse. “If I had a judge’s permission, I’d do it every day,” he said of bringing a gun into the courtroom. “Guns are like lawyers: Better to have one and not need it than need one and not have it.”

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